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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:In March 1999, Tiburicio Ledesma Jr. purchased a new Ford F-350 Super Duty pickup truck for his construction business. The truck had four rear tires, two on each side, surrounded by fiberglass fenders extending beyond the sides of the truck. On June 5, 1999, Ledesma turned onto a two-lane street in Austin and began to accelerate. He testified that after shifting gears the truck suddenly began to lurch, and he lost control, striking two cars parked on the side of the street, a Firebird and a Civic, on the side of the street. The truck then hit the street curb and came to rest. At the time of the accident, the truck’s odometer read about 4,100 miles. Power from the truck engine is conveyed to the rear axle by the drive shaft, which connects the transmission in the front of the truck with the differential/rear axle assembly in the rear. The rear-axle housing is attached to two sets of rear leaf springs by u-bolts, which wrap around the axle housing and are bolted to a rear spring plate that sits on top of the leaf-spring assembly. On each side of the truck, two u-bolts attach the rear-axle housing to a spring plate and set of leaf springs. Both parties agreed that the truck’s rear leaf spring and axle assembly came apart and that this separation caused the drive shaft to dislodge from the transmission. The core dispute centered on when and why this malfunction occurred and whether it caused the collision or resulted from it. That is, did a manufacturing defect trigger the right rear-axle displacement and cause Ledesma to lose control of the truck and strike the parked cars, or did the right rear axle detach when Ledesma struck the parked cars and curb? At trial, Ledesma claimed that he lost control of the truck when its drive shaft separated from the transmission and “pronged” on the pavement, causing him to hit the parked cars. A police officer testified that he investigated the accident scene and prepared a report based on Ledesma’s description of the accident. The report makes no mention of any other witnesses. Ledesma also presented two expert witnesses in support of his manufacturing defect claim. Ledesma’s expert David Hall, an accident reconstructionist, testified by deposition that he believed a mark in the road showed that the drive axle struck the pavement before the truck struck the Firebird, consistent with Ledesma’s theory that the truck malfunctioned and caused the collision. He reached this conclusion by reviewing a number of photographs. Based on the photographic evidence of damage to the Firebird and an engineering paper providing a method for estimating speed based on the Firebird’s body damage, Hall also estimated that Ledesma’s truck was traveling at a very slow speed when it struck the Firebird, again consistent with Ledesma’s theory of the accident and inconsistent with Ford’s theory that Ledesma was speeding and otherwise driving carelessly. Ledesma also offered the testimony of metallurgical and mechanical engineer Geert Aerts, a leading expert on truck leaf springs who has investigated about 150 leaf-spring failures. Aerts focused on the u-bolts holding the rear axle to the rear springs and concluded that one of them was defectively manufactured. His theory was that a rear passenger-side u-bolt was loose, causing it to vibrate. This vibration eventually fatigued and fractured a center pin holding the leaf springs to the rear spring plate, which in turn allowed the u-bolts, spring plate and rear axle to slide backwards, pulling the drive shaft from the transmission. Aerts examined the truck’s u-bolts while they were still on the truck and found the torque on each bolt to be well below that required by Ford’s specifications. While he conceded that the torques might have changed because of the accident, he concluded that the u-bolt in issue was undertorqued when Ford assembled the truck. Ford argued that Aerts never confirmed the existence of denting in the axle housing and that Ford’s expert May testified that he could find no such denting. Ford contended that the u-bolt was deformed, because of the tremendous forces of the accident. Ford also presented the testimony of expert Dan May in support of its theory that the axle-to-spring attachment failed, not because of a manufacturing defect, but because of the forces exerted on it when Ledesma struck the parked vehicles and curb. Among other efforts to discredit May, Ledesma emphasized to the jury that May was a longtime Ford employee and had never found a defect in a Ford product. Ford also called Edward Plyant, the owner of the Firebird, who testified by deposition that he witnessed the accident from a driveway. Plyant testified that Ledesma was speeding and inattentive and struck the Firebird at a high rate of speed. Ledesma testified that Plyant did not see the accident but came outside after hearing the ensuing commotion and that Plyant had unsuccessfully sued Ledesma. The jury sided 11-1 with Ledesma, finding that a manufacturing defect caused the accident and that Ledesma was not contributorily negligent, and awarding economic damages of $215,380. The 3rd Court of Appeals affirmed. HOLDING:Reversed and remanded. Ford argued that the trial court erred in admitting the testimony of Ledesma’s two expert witnesses, because their opinions were unreliable. Ford raised numerous complaints about the reliability of Hall’s testimony. Ford noted that: the post-accident photographs of the road were taken by Ledesma and his father with a low-quality disposable camera; that there are many spots and marks on the grainy photographs; and that the marks do not reliably indicate that the drive shaft struck the road prior to the crash with the Firebird. Ford stressed that the investigating police officer found no gouges in the pavement despite a careful search of the accident scene. Ford also raises numerous complaints about Hall’s estimate of the truck’s speed at the time of the Firebird collision. These complaints include two observations: 1. the engineering paper on which Hall relied states that it should not be used when examining sideswipes such as the accident in issue; and 2. the damage to the Firebird, as confirmed by the car’s owner and a repair estimate, was far more severe than Hall assumed, rendering his estimate of a very slow impact unreliable. Ford did not claim that Aerts was unqualified to testify as an expert on the accident but contended that his theory of the accident was unreliable for various reasons. To be admissible, an expert’s testimony must possess a reliable foundation, the court stated. Expert testimony is unreliable if it is based on unreliable data or if the expert draws conclusions from his underlying data “based on flawed methodology.” Expert testimony is also unreliable if “there is simply too great an analytical gap between the data and the opinion proffered.” In its 1995 decision E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Robinson, the court set out six factors courts may consider in deciding whether expert testimony is reliable: 1. the extent to which the theory has been or can be tested; 2. the extent to which the technique relies on the subjective interpretation of the expert; 3. whether the theory has been subjected to peer review and/or publication; 4. the technique’s potential rate of error; 5. whether the underlying theory or technique generally has been accepted as valid by the relevant scientific community; and 6. the nonjudicial uses that have been made of the theory or technique. The court held that Aerts’ testimony was sufficiently reliable to warrant its admission into evidence and constituted some evidence that a manufacturing defect caused the accident. Aerts’ testimony, the court stated, offered a plausible theory of how the accident occurred. Aerts, the court stated, based his testimony on deviations between Ford’s own specifications as to torque, alignment of the flattened portion of the u-bolt and the tolerance for the difference in u-bolt leg lengths. He relied on observations and measurements of tangible truck components, which were documented with photographs and a videotape of his initial examination of the truck. The u-bolts and rear-axle assembly were admitted into evidence. The court stated that the jury was free to examine this evidence and the Ford specifications that were also admitted into evidence. Ford presented a strong defense, the court stated, but ultimately the jury rejected it. Aerts’ testimony, the court stated, does not present a case where “there is simply too great an analytical gap between the data and the opinion proffered,” or where the expert’s testimony amounted to nothing more than a recitation of his credentials and a subjective opinion. The court concluded that Ford’s complaints about Aerts’ testimony went to its weight, not its admissibility. The court therefore held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting Aerts’ testimony. Next, Ford complained that the trial court improperly instructed the jury on the definitions of manufacturing defect and producing cause. The trial court submitted the pattern jury charge’s definition on manufacturing defect, the court noted. Ford argued, however, that the model charge was erroneous, as it did not include the requirement that a manufacturing defect must deviate from its specifications or planned output in a manner that renders the product unreasonably dangerous. The court agreed, finding that the court’s charge was fundamentally flawed in omitting the requirement that the product deviate in its construction or quality from its specifications or planned output in a manner that renders it unreasonably dangerous. The court declined to render judgment in favor of Ford. “Given that our trial courts routinely rely on the Pattern Jury Charges in submitting cases to juries,” the court stated, “and we rarely disapprove of these charges, we conclude that the interests of justice would not be served by reversing and rendering judgment in favor of Ford. The more appropriate remedy is to reverse and remand for a new trial.” Ford also complained that the trial court improperly instructed the jury on producing cause. The trial court, following Pattern Jury Charge 70.1, instructed the jury: “”Producing cause’ means an efficient, exciting, or contributing cause that, in a natural sequence, produces the incident in question. There may be more than one producing cause.” Ford, the court stated, contended that the definition was an incorrect statement of Texas law and that a valid definition would state that producing cause “means that cause which, in a natural sequence, was a substantial factor in bringing about an event, and without which the event would not have occurred. There may be more than one producing cause.” Ford requested the trial court to use this definition. The court agreed with Ledesma that the second part of the court’s definition � recognizing that there may be more than one producing cause of an event � is correct. The court then found the first part of the definition � that producing cause means an efficient, exciting or contributing cause that, in a natural sequence, produces the incident in question � flawed, even though the court used that definition in the past. The court then stated a new definition: “Defining producing cause as being a substantial factor in bringing about an injury, and without which the injury would not have occurred, is easily understood and conveys the essential components of producing cause that (1) the cause must be a substantial cause of the event in issue and (2) it must be a but-for cause, namely one without which the event would not have occurred.” OPINION:Willett, J., delivered the opinion of the court.

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