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Widow’s Suit Over Fatal Crash May Pin Daimler

(CN) - Daimler Trucks must face claims that a man died, screaming in pain, because of defect in a tractor-trailer it designed, a federal judge ruled.

Edvin Medina was approaching an Interstate 91 overpass in Brattleboro, Vt., at about 7:20 a.m. on Feb. 5, 2008, when he saw van had crashed into the guardrails.

on Interstate 91 in Brattleboro, Vt., at about 7:20 a.m. on Feb. 5, 2008.

Though he avoided contact with the van, Medina's truck crashed into the guardrails, caught fire, and plummeted off the bridge through a high-voltage power line.

On behalf of the couple's three children, Medina's widow, Maria, brought a federal complaint in New Jersey against the driver of the van, as well Daimler Trucks North America LLC, which manufactured Medina's tractor-trailer; and another company.

She said bystanders heard Medina screaming from the burning tractor after the crash. After the fuel tank was pierced, the batteries were ripped off the tractor, and a shower of electric sparks coming from the battery box's loose wires ignited the fuel vapors, the widow's complaint alleged.

Her expert, George Meinschein, testified that "mounting the batteries on the outboard side of the frame rail and in close proximity to the fuel tank" caused the fire.

U.S. District Judge Jose Linares refused on Dec. 30 to exclude that testimony, rejecting Daimler's claim that the Meinshein's theories on accident reconstruction, a design defect, or proving proximate cause is inadmissible.

"Based on Mr. Meinschein's description of his methodology in his expert reports and his deposition, the court is satisfied that he reached his conclusions using a generally-accepted methodology," the unpublished ruling states.

Meinschein's methods were in line with the National Fire Protection Association 921: Guide for Fire & Explosion Investigations, the judge ruled.

"Mr. Meinschein recognized the need to determine what caused the fire and defined the problem in his first expert report," Linares wrote. "He explained that Mr. Medina died in a car accident and that plaintiffs counsel retained his services to determine whether a defect in Mr. Medina's truck caused the fire that led to Mr. Medina's death. He also collected data by reviewing the materials listed above. He then analyzed the data and developed his hypothesis - that the electric arcing that occurred when the batteries were ripped off the truck caused the fire."

The testimony of Terrance Martin is also admissible, according to the ruling.

"The fact that Mr. Martin did not conduct his own accident reconstruction may go to the weight of the testimony, but does not automatically disqualify him from testifying as an expert," Linares wrote.

Daimler also failed to nab summary judgment at this juncture.

"Plaintiff has created a sufficient question of material fact as to whether Mr. Medina would have suffered the same burn injuries had the battery been located under the rails of the truck," Linares wrote. "As explained above, Mr. Meinschein testified that had the alternative design been used, the electric arcing that caused Medina's truck to catch on fire would not have occurred."

Daimler AG says it netted more than $39.5 billion in revenue in the 3rd quarter of 2014.

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