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John Chiriboga, Individually, and As Administrator v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation

June 9, 2011

JOHN CHIRIBOGA, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF JOYCE CHIRIBOGA, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This case comes before the court on the motion of Defendant National Railroad Passenger Corporation ("Amtrak") to bar the Plaintiff John Chiriboga ("Chiriboga") from using the expert testimony of John Senders, Kenric Van Wyk, and Richard Beall. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

This case arises out of an accident that occurred on November 8, 2008, at the Edgebrook railway station in Chicago. In short, that night, Diane Moss ("Diane") and her sister, Joyce Chiriboga ("Joyce"), entered the Edgebrook station on the opposite side of the tracks from where Diane was supposed to board a northbound train. To reach the correct platform, the sisters needed to cross the tracks via the pedestrian crosswalk.

Diane decided to cross the tracks and Joyce followed her. As Joyce and Diane were crossing the tracks, a southbound Amtrak train struck and killed Joyce. Chiriboga, individually and as administrator of the estate of Joyce, filed a complaint against Amtrak asserting a wrongful death claim under 740 Ill. Comp. Stat. 180/0.01. Following the completion of all discovery, including expert discovery, Amtrak filed a motion for summary judgment. In opposition to Amtrak's motion for summary judgment, Chiriboga offers the expert testimony of John Senders ("Senders"), Kenric Van Wyk ("Van Wyk"), and Richard Beall ("Beall"). Amtrak now moves to exclude the expert opinions.

LEGAL STANDARD

The admissibility of expert testimony is governed by Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and the standard of review established in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993) and United States v. Parra, 402 F.3d 752, 758 (7th Cir. 2005). To be admissible, expert testimony must be offered by a person qualified as an expert by their knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education and assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue. Fed. R. Evid. 702. The testimony must be based on facts and data that reliably relate to the facts of the case and that are proven by a valid theory or technique. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 593. The admission or exclusion of expert testimony is a matter left to the discretion of the trial judge.

Carroll v. Otis Elevator Co., 896 F.2d 210, 212 (7th Cir. 1990). Whether a particular witness is qualified as an expert is determined by comparison of the area in which the witness has superior skill, knowledge, education, or experience with the subject matter of the witness' proposed testimony. Id.

DISCUSSION

I. Motion to Bar Senders' Expert Testimony

Chiriboga proposes Senders as an expert in human vision and human factors. Senders has proffered four opinions that are relevant to the instant motion and summarized as follows:*fn1

(1) Chiriboga's Statement of Additional Fact 33 (Opinion 1): It is possible that at the time of the accident, Joyce did not check if any southbound train was coming from her left-hand side, because she was either looking down at the unfamiliar crosswalk or at Diane who was leading the way across the tracks;

(2) Chiriboga's Statement of Additional Facts 34 and 35 (Opinion 2): It is reasonable to expect that in deciding to follow Diane across the tracks, Joyce relied on Diane's decision that it was safe to cross and was probably looking to the right when Diane was also looking to the right for the northbound train;

(3) Chiriboga's Statement of Additional Fact 36 (Opinion 3): Even if Joyce looked to the left and saw the train's headlights, she still would not have recognized them as a moving source of light because a brief glance at an object ...


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