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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:The court considers whether there was sufficient evidence to support a jury’s finding that a defect in an automobile manufactured by Volkswagen of America, Inc. was the proximate cause of a fatal two-car accident. After a unanimous jury returned a defense verdict, the trial court granted a motion for new trial and the second jury returned a verdict awarding substantial monetary damages. HOLDING:Reversed and rendered. The Ramirezes � the plaintiffs � proffered the testimony of Ronald Walker, their accident reconstruction expert, to prove that a bearing defect in the left rear wheel assembly of the Passat driven by Sperling caused her initially to lose control of the vehicle and subsequently collide with the Mustang driven by Guerra. Crucial to Walker’s opinion is his theory that the left rear wheel of the Passat detached from the stub axle and stayed tucked underneath the left rear wheel well as the car entered and crossed the grass and concrete median, collided with the Mustang, and spun partially around before coming to rest. Walker proposed that the “laws of physics” explain how the wheel was able to remain pocketed in the rear wheel well throughout the turbulent accident sequence. Walker does not answer an important question, the court says: If the left rear wheel separated from the axle while the Passat was in the eastbound lanes, how could it remain “tucked” in the wheel well through events that occurred at 50 to 60 miles per hour and ultimately produced sufficient force to result in the deaths of two people? The answer, according to the court, is not within common knowledge and requires expert testimony. Walker’s reliance on the “laws of physics”, without more, is an insufficient explanation. Although Walker maintains that the methods and formulas he employed are the ones generally accepted and utilized in the accident reconstruction profession, he does not explain how any of the research or tests he relied on support his conclusion. Walker does not close the “analytical gap” by explaining how the Passat’s wheel could behave as he described, especially in light of the fact that there are no other studies, publications, or peer review that support his position. The tucked or floating wheel theory that Walker offers, the court finds, is not supported by objective scientific analysis and is based solely upon his subjective interpretation of the facts. As such, Walker’s opinion is unreliable and constitutes no evidence of causation. The court next concludes that an unidentified witness’s videotaped account of the accident was not an excited utterance, finding that the evidence indicates that the witness’s statements were calmly given in response to the reporter’s questions after an opportunity for deliberation, rather than made as a spontaneous reaction to the accident. They are therefore hearsay which should have been excluded by the trial court. The unidentified witness’s testimony is no evidence of causation. The court then turns to the causation testimony of Edward Cox, the Ramirez’s metallurgical expert, which was that a “sudden and abrupt catastrophic event” inside the Passat’s left rear wheel bearing assembly set in motion a series of other events that eventually led to the wheel separating from the car and moving outwards along the stub axle. According to Cox, this would be consistent with unusual and “erratic vehicle behavior which would then cause the driver to make a corrective steer” into the median. Cox stated that the bearing failure “ha[d] to happen” before the vehicle entered the median because that was the only opportunity for several pieces of grass from the median to get into grease inside the wheel’s hub. The court concludes that Cox’s opinions of the cause of the accident are conclusory on their face and are therefore no more than a mere scintilla of evidence. OPINION:Wainwright, J., delivered the opinion of the court in which Hecht, Owen, Smith, Brister and Medina, JJ., joined. CONCURRENCE:Hecht, J.; “Personal credibility may well be a determining factor in assessing the testimony of a fact witness, but we require more of an expert witness, lest a very convincing charlatan in a lab jacket pull the wool over laymen’s eyes. We have reiterated that”a claim will not stand or fall on the mere ipse dixit of a credentialed witness.’ It is not enough that an expert seem credible. An expert must show that his views have the support of established, objective observations or a well-considered consensus of at least a substantial segment of the scientific, technical, or specialized community to which he belongs. Dr. Cox did neither.” DISSENT:Jefferson, C.J.; O’Neill, J., dissents. “Reasonable jurors could have accepted Volkswagen’s theory and rejected Cox’s (as they did in the first trial), or accepted Cox’s and rejected Volkswagen’s (as they did here), but unlike the jury, this Court lacks constitutional authority to weigh conflicting evidence. Accordingly, I respectfully dissent from the Court’s rendition of judgment for Volkswagen.”

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