When credibility questions are central to a case, objective, expert testimony supporting your client's version of events becomes even more critical. The slightest deviation between your client's story and your expert's testimony can tilt a verdict. In Valdes v. U.S. Sugar Corp., the difference between a railway worker's details of a train yard accident and the testimony of his accident reconstruction expert may have been the key to a defense verdict in his $2 million suit.
Manuel Valdes, who worked for South Central Florida Express, a short-line railroad owned by U.S. Sugar Corp., sued the companies for injuries he says he suffered when he fell from a pickup truck that he claims pulled away from a train yard as he retrieved equipment from its bed.
In seeking up to $2 million in damages, Valdes argued that the truck, driven by Sam Mallo, accelerated as Valdes reached into the truck bed, sending Valdes to the ground, knocking him unconscious and delivering career-ending head, hip, and shoulder injuries.
However, the defense challenged Valdes' credibility, arguing Valdes exagerrated the accident and its impact. Mallo and another railway worker on the scene disputed Valdes' story, claiming the truck did not accelerate prior to Mallo's alleged fall.
The difference in stories made Dr. James Dobbs' testimony a key to the case. Dobbs, an accident reconstruction expert testifying for Valdes, concluded the circumstances of the accident may have supported many of Valdes' claims. Notably, however, Dobbs conceded the truck could not have accelerated prior to Valdes' fall.
Instead, Dobbs concluded the truck moved only because Mallo took his foot off of the brake pedal, rather than pressing the gas, which was more consistent with Mallo's testimony.
Dobbs said the chaos of the accident may have led Valdes to perceive the truck accelerated. However, under cross examination, Valdes discounted that possibility entirely, contending his own accident reconstruction expert was wrong. "(Mallo) accelerated that truck, sir," Valdes insisted. "I totally disagree with (Dobbs' testimony), with all due respect to him."
In a case of competing stories, that inconsistency may have undermined Valdes' case enough to lead to a defense verdict.
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
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