Naval Architect Not Qualified to Render Opinions as to Automotive Products

WASHINGTON — The United States District Court, Western District of Washington addressed several expert challenges including the motion of the defendant Ford (Ford) to exclude Dr. Charles Cushing’s statements regarding the plaintiffs’ likely exposure to asbestos during automotive work.

For a brief case background, this case centers around allegations that decedent developed mesothelioma, and ultimately passed away from the disease, due to occupational exposure to asbestos from work as a machinist in the Navy and in the Naval reserve from 1954-1962; as a machinist and piping instructor in a naval shipyard from 1967-1973; as a mechanic from 1962-1967; and from automotive work on personal vehicles from 1955-2001.

In this case, the defendant Viad Corporation (Viad) offered Dr. Charles Cushing (Cushing), President of C.R. Cushing & Co., a firm of naval architects, marine engineers and transportation consultants, as an expert. Cushing reviewed decedent’s deposition testimony, interrogatory answers, and personal records, along with materials relating to the use of asbestos by the U.S. Navy on naval vessels, and concluded that decedent was likely exposed to asbestos aboard naval vessels and at the Shipyard. Cushing also opined that decedent was likely exposed to asbestos when he worked on automobiles, which involved handling clutches, brakes and gaskets.

Ford moved to exclude Cushing’s statements as to decedent’s automotive work and argued that Cushing was a naval architect with expertise in naval ships and shipyards, not automobiles or the brakes, gaskets, and clutches used in automobiles.  Here, Ford emphasized that Cushing may be “plainly qualified to opine on the asbestos-containing products that were likely present on the naval and marine vessels [decedent] worked on,” Cushing was not qualified to render opinions about the asbestos content of automotive products and asbestos exposure that might occur during automotive repair work.

Viad did not argue against this point and conceded Cushing was not an expert in automobiles.  Rather, Viad argued that Cushing’s opinion that decedent was exposed to asbestos from brakes is admissible as lay opinion testimony and Fed. R. Evid. 701 allows lay testimony that is rationally based on the witness’s perception, helpful to products would lead to asbestos exposure.

The court found in favor for the defendant Ford and excluded Cushing statement’s as to exposure from automobile work.  The court emphasized the determination of asbestos exposure is an issue that requires scientific, technical, and specialized knowledge, as evidenced by the many experts in asbestos cases, including this one, who opine on exposure.  Here, Cushing has no analogous experience with automobiles and because Cushing’s opinion on the decedent’s exposure to asbestos from automobile products was not rationally based on Cushing’s perception and requires specialized knowledge, the court declined to admit it as a lay opinion. Consequently, as Cushing was not qualified as an expert to render opinions about exposure as to decedent’s automotive work under Fed. R. Evid. 702, Ford’s motion to exclude Cushing from testifying as to the same was GRANTED.