GM Loses Statistical Expert for Upcoming Rollover Trial

Expert Evidence Report® is the premier results-oriented resource for plaintiffs and defense lawyers monitoring the latest news and guidance on the admissibility of expert evidence across all...

By Bruce Kaufman

Nov. 13 — General Motors will have to defend the structural integrity of its 2004 GMC Savana van at a Jan. 4 rollover trial without its chosen statistical expert.

Judge Charles A. Shaw of the Eastern District of Missouri ruled Nov. 10 that the expert would be excluded from the trial because her analysis of 275,000 crashes didn't offer meaningful comparisons of injury rates between the Savana and its peers in rollover accidents.

Jeya Padmanaban sought to testify that the rate of injuries in the GMC Savana is comparable to other vans, and there is no relationship between vehicle roof strength-to-weight ratio and the likelihood of serious injury or fatality. But that testimony wasn't relevant to the injury suit by Lauretta Roberts, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri held.

Padmanaban's testimony about statistical associations and comparative risk will not tend to prove or disprove anything about the safety of Robert's vehicle in the context of plaintiff’s complaint, and instead risks “misleading or confusing the jury where its job is to evaluate the crashworthiness of the vehicle,” the court said.

Padmanaban, the president and owner of JP Research Inc., was criticized for using a study of some 275,000 annual vehicle crashes that didn't factor in several significant variables important to this case, including the number of turns completed during rollovers.

In August, Padmanaban was barred from testifying in a similar suit about the relative roof strength of a 2003 GMC Savana because her crashworthiness analysis included “wholly dissimilar” accidents (Bavlsik v. Gen. Motors, Inc., 2015 BL 265554, E.D. Mo., No. 4:13-CV-509, 8/18/15) (43 PSLR 998, 8/24/15)

Roberts' strict liability and negligence suit contends she wouldn't have suffered spinal fractures and paralysis if her van had been designed with an electronic stability control system to prevent a rollover; better roof structure to minimize intrusion into the occupant compartment; and side or canopy air bags.

Trial is set for Jan. 4. GM asked for a later trial date in a Nov. 6 motion, but the plaintiff opposed an extension in a response three days later.

GM is represented by Hanson Bolkcom Law Group in Minneapolis; and Baker and Sterchi in St. Louis.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Kaufman in Washington at bkaufman@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Patrick at spatrick@bna.com

The opinion is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/Roberts_v_Gen_Motors_LLC_No_413CV541_CAS_2015_BL_370435_ED_Mo_Nov.