Expert Testimony and Alabama Personal Injury: a Look at Dubiel v. Montana Department of Transportation

March 27, 2012

When you are injured because of the fault of someone else, establishing liability can be complicated. Our Tuscaloosa injury attorneys understand that the law is complex, and we can help defend your rights in the wake of a serious or fatal accident.
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Dubiel v. Montana Department of Transportation is a case that examines the plaintiff's burden of proof in injury cases based on negligence. This case is important because it shows the importance of expert testimony in Tuscaloosa injury cases.

Jerome Dubiel was traveling on a highway in Montana during a time of extremely high winds. These winds persisted for two hours causing trees to be blown down and scatter on the road. There were several employees from the Montana Department of Transportation ("MDT") within the area assessing road conditions, working on the power lines, as well as removing trees from the roads.

Jerome was temporarily stopped by an employee of the MDT who was clearing debris from the highway, when a tree fell onto Jerome's car causing him to suffer a fatal injury. Subsequently, the MDT closed the highway due to weather and road conditions. However, the MDT contends that they did not know of Jerome's accident when they decided to close the highway.

Plaintiff sued the MDT with cause of action's for negligence and wrongful death. Jerome's wife Keevy ("Plaintiff") claimed that the MDT acted negligently when it failed to close the highway before Jerome's death, and therefore they were responsible.

When suing under a theory of negligence, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that there was a specific standard of care for which the defendant breached. When dealing with a negligence claim there are four different components to be taken into account. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant had a specific duty of care, that duty was breached, the breach was the proximate cause of the injury to the plaintiff, and that there were damages. When the plaintiff is unable to prove any of these four elements, the plaintiff's claim fails.

An integral component in proving negligence claims is having witnesses who can support your contentions. In this case, the defendants provided an expert who submitted an affidavit discussing road closing policies and procedures. This expert explained that there are several factors to be considered when dealing with road closures and they include public safety, safety of the employees of the department of transportation, traffic flows, alternate routes and the nature of the weather conditions. After analyzing these components and looking through the MDT records, the expert found that the MDT acted timely and responsibly in assessing the situation on the day of Jerome's death.

Usually in injury cases like this, the plaintiff also provides expert testimony to meet her burden of proof and provide technical expertise. Plaintiff needed to show what was required of MDT in this situation. For instance, the degree of prudence, attention and caution that the Defendant was required to exude in the weather conditions that were present on that day. In the case at hand, the Plaintiff did not provide an expert to establish the standard that MDT was required to meet under the pending circumstances.

Because Plaintiff failed to provide this information, the state Supreme Court granted summary judgment on behalf of MDT. This was done because the court found that the plaintiff failed to present substantial evidence in support of her claims.

When you are involved in a lawsuit, it can be very challenging to decipher what your obligations are. That is why it is important to have an experienced attorney who is dedicated to your case, ensuring that your rights are protected, so that you can take time to concentrate on your health.