Case Notes: Masterson vs. Siemens Industry, Inc., COA NPO 10/31/2014

An interesting read on the complexity of multiple issues and need to keep on your toes in a car accident case with issues involving causation, pre-existing, burdens, expert testimony, laying foundation for medical bills, vicarious liability, burdens, and more.

Masterson vs. Siemens Industry, Inc.
COA Not Published 10/31/2014; Affirming in part, reversing in part (Jefferson County, J. McDonald)

In this nonpublished decision by the Kentucky Court of Appeals, a multitude of issues were addressed within the context of a motor vehicle collision personal injury claim. We had a defense expert versus a treating physician,  introduction and proof of the medical bills, causation and pre-existing conditions, vicarious liability,  motion for a new trial and the application of an affirmative defense the sudden emergency doctrine.

Experts: Daubert Hearing Admits Hair Comparison Evidence but SCOKY reminds all that prior rulings on admissibility “not set in stone” (Meskimen vs. Commonwealth of Kentucky, SCOKY, Pub, 4/25/2013

hair.comparison.imagesAlthough SCOKY affirmed the scientific evidence of “hair comparison” evidence which has been historically admissible in Kentucky, Justice Scott shot a warning volley over the bow of Daubert with a bit of a warning that the past may not always be the assurance for continuing admissibility –

the state of scientifically accepted evidence is ever changing, and what is scientifically acceptable today may be found to be incorrect or obsolete in the future. In the present case, the trial court correctly took judicial notice of the acceptability of scientific methods, but this is not a rule that is “set in stone,” and is subject to change with scientific discovery.  It is up to the trial courts to stay abreast of currently accepted scientific methods, as they are the gatekeepers for the admissibility of evidence. Therefore, even though case law may be in acceptance of a certain method of analysis, it is the trial court’s duty to ensure that method is supported by scientific findings, or at least not seriously questioned by recent reputable scientific findings,’  before taking judicial notice of its acceptability.

The decision:

Meskimen vs. Commowealth of Kentucky
SCOKY, Published 4/25/2013
OPINION OF THE COURT BY JUSTICE SCOTT – AFFIRMING
MINTON, C.J.; ABRAMSON, CUNNINGHAM, NOBLE, SCOTT, AND VENTERS, JJ., SITTING. ALL CONCUR
Questions Presented:
First degree manslaughter, first degree tampering with physical evidence, third degree alcohol intoxication, and third degree criminal trespass-25 years. Trial court properly denied motion to suppress defendant’s statement obtained during his interrogation at police headquarters and his subsequent statements made during his hospitalization. Right to remain silent. Intoxication. Hair comparison evidence-Daubert hearing. Criminal contempt.

OPINION OF THE COURT BY JUSTICE SCOTT.

Fayette Circuit Court jury found Appellant, Timothy Meskimen, guilty of first-degree manslaughter, first-degree tampering with physical evidence, third-degree alcohol intoxication, and third-degree criminal trespass. For these crimes, Appellant received a twenty-five-year prison sentence. He now appeals as a matter of right, Ky. Const. §110(2)(b), alleging that the trial court erred by: (1) allowing the use of Appellant’s coerced statements in violation of his constitutional rights, (2) failing to suppress the evidence of subsequent statements made during his hospitalization, (3) denying his motion to suppress evidence of hair comparisons, and (4) summarily imposing a consecutive six- month sentence for indirect contempt. For the reasons that follow, we affirm Appellant’s conviction and sentence.

B. Daubert Hearing

Appellant next argues that the trial court erred to his substantial prejudice when it denied his motion to exclude physical evidence. Specifically, Appellant alleges the admission of hair comparisons was erroneous because the trial court failed to conduct a Daubert hearing.   We review a trial court’s theory at issue.” Id. “Courts are right to admit or exclude much evidence without reinventing the wheel every time by requiring the parties to put on full demonstrations of the validity or invalidity of methods or techniques that have been scrutinized well enough in prior decisions to warrant taking judicial notice of their status.” Id. (internal quotations omitted). “This Court holds that Kentucky trial judges may take judicial notice of those scientific methods or techniques that have achieved the status of scientific reliability, and thus a Daubert hearing is not required.” Id. at 262. Indeed, leividence of hair analysis by microscopic comparison has been admissible in this Commonwealth for many years.” Id.

In this case, the Commonwealth offered evidence that has been admissible in the state of Kentucky for many years. Microscopic hair analysis is a scientifically reliable method, and we, therefore, do not require that a Daubert hearing be held with regard to the admittance of such evidence. We will not disturb the decisions of the trial court without a clear showing of abuse of discretion. Partin v. Commonwealth, 918 S.W.2d 219 (Ky. 1996). In this case, there is no indication that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the evidence. Thus, Appellant’s argument is without merit.

With that being said, the state of scientifically accepted evidence is ever changing, and what is scientifically acceptable today may be found to be incorrect or obsolete in the future. In the present case, the trial court correctly took judicial notice of the acceptability of scientific methods, but this is not a rule that is “set in stone,” and is subject to change with scientific discovery.  It is up to the trial courts to stay abreast of currently accepted scientific methods, as they are the gatekeepers for the admissibility of evidence. Therefore, even though case law may be in acceptance of a certain method of analysis, it is the trial court’s duty to ensure that method is supported by scientific findings, or at least not seriously questioned by recent reputable scientific findings,’ 0 before taking judicial notice of its aceptability. That of course was not the case here, thus, we find no error.

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Evidence: Experts, inconsistent statements, Daubert and closings – Wilson v. Madzhitov, COA, NPO 3/29/2013

Evidence rulings on prior inconsistent statements; expert witnesses; closing argument
Wilson vs. Madzhitov
COA, Not Published 3/29/2013
Jefferson

VANMETER, JUDGE: Alisha Wilson appeals from the Jefferson Circuit Court judgment ruling in favor of Mikail Madzhitov following a jury trial on her claim of negligence. Mikail cross-appeals from the same judgment. Based on the following, we affirm.