Washington Court Limits the Ways in Which Plaintiffs May Attack Defense Biomechanical Experts

From the desk of Kyle Riley: Often times, issues arise in automobile accidents where experts must testify as to whether a plaintiff’s injuries could have occurred given the extent of damage to the vehicles. Plaintiffs attempt to challenge defendants’ experts in a multitude of ways, ranging from attacking credentials to arguing that the testimony will be irrelevant. A recent case provides some clarity, as to when biomechanical expert testimony will be permissible.

Claims Pointer: Insurers and their attorneys should be aware that testimony by a biomechanical expert about the forces acting on the two vehicles and on the body of the passenger is not an improper “medical opinion,” despite the fact that the expert is not a physician. Also, such an expert does not need an engineering license to testify to engineering principles which form the basis of the expert’s opinions. Defendants now have a shield against the multitude of ways plaintiffs attack defense experts.

Johnston-Forbes v. Matsunaga, — P.3d —-, 2013 WL 5800326 (2013).

In August 2006, Dawn Matsunaga’s (“Matsunaga”) vehicle struck, at a low speed, the rear end of a stopped vehicle in which Cathy Johnston-Forbes was a passenger. Johnston-Forbes believed she was fine; however, that evening she experienced stiffness in her neck. Several weeks later, Johnston-Forbes visited a hospital regarding lower back pain. The following year, she received periodic physical therapy treatments; and continued to complain to her doctor about neck pain. Approximately four years after the accident, an MRI revealed that Johnston-Forbes had a herniated disc in her lower neck.

In May 2009, Johnston-Forbes sued Matsunaga for general and special damages arising from Matsunaga’s alleged negligence in the August 2006 car accident. Matsunaga admitted that she struck Johnston-Forbes, but denied that the collision caused her injuries.

Johnston-Forbes moved in limine to exclude Matsunaga’s biomechanical expert testimony and...

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