Judge Sorts Out Expert Clash Over BMW Fire

     CHICAGO (CN) – An expert can study the fuel tank of a BMW that ignited after a crash, a federal judge ruled, siding with the severely burned driver now suing for negligence.
     In July 2008, Murray Scheinman was stopped at a red light in his BMW 335i convertible when a 18-wheeler hit him from behind. Scheinman’s car caught fire, giving him extensive burns and melting part of the vehicle.
     Scheinman charged multiple defendants, including BMW of North America, with negligence in federal court, and now seeks to have experts analyze the remains of his car and remove the fuel tank for analysis.
     The parties and experts met in October 2012 to complete the discovery, but BMW stopped the inspection before it was complete, claiming that the least destructive means were not being used.
     BMW asserted that Scheinman’s expert, John Stilson, “appeared to be doing maximum destruction” to the vehicle because he attempted to use a Sawzall cutting tool to remove the fuel tank.
     BMW said this method would destroy other evidence, and that the fuel tank did not need to be removed because it was partially exposed. It said a camera scope could inspect any uncovered areas.
     U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Cox granted Scheinman’s motion to compel last week, finding that “there is ample support from both sides for removal of the fuel tank.”
     The ruling also gives BMW’s expert, Mark Noble, permission to remove the fuel tank in a less destructive manner, as long as it was done in Stilson’s presence.
     “Mr. Noble has indicated that he believes he can remove the fuel tank non-destructively,” Cox wrote. “For example, he believes cutting the exhaust pipes further towards the front of the vehicle will allow the tank to come out without having to remove the entire exhaust,” Cox said. “As an added safeguard, then, we see no reason that Mr. Noble could not, himself, perform the removal of the fuel tank. Both parties have significant interest in preserving the evidence in this case and, therefore, it is in their interest to work together to meet that goal. The Court is required to balance the interests served by the inspection against the value of preservation of evidence on behalf of BMW. Having BMW’s expert perform the actual removal, in the company of plaintiff’s expert, would seem to resolve any potential prejudice that has been alleged here.”
     Stilson’s LinkedIn profile describes him as an automotive and safety expert with Stilson Consulting. He previously spent a decade as a design and development engineer with Ford Motor Co., according to the profile.
     Mark Noble, of Noble Engineering, says he is an expert in fuel system design, performance and fire analysis.

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