Wheaton v. Bradford

Wheaton v. Bradford, 2013 MT 121 (May 7, 2013) (5-0) (Rice, J.)

Issue: (1) Whether Bradford’s expert was properly allowed; (2) whether Bradford’s expert failed to supplement his disclosure; (3) whether the motion for a new trial should have been granted.

Short Answer: (1) Yes; (2) no; and (3) no.


Facts: In June 2010, Margaret Howard was driving south and John Bradford was driving north in Hwy. 212, a 2-lane highway south of Red Lodge. The vehicles collided, and both drivers died. No witnesses saw the crash.

The personal representatives of Margaret Howard’s estate filed a wrongful death and survivorship action against the estate of john Bradford, alleging negligence. Both parties retained reconstruction experts, although Howard’s estate  did not present either of its experts at trial, relying on the highway patrolman who opined that John’s vehicle crossed the center line and hit Margaret’s vehicle. Howard’s estate moved in limine to exclude Bradford’s estate’s expert.

Procedural Posture & Holding: A jury found Bradford was not liable in negligence for Howard’s death. Howard’s estate moved for a new trial, and the district court denied the motion. Howard’s estate appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning:  (1) Howard’s estate contends that Townes, Bradford’s expert, laid insufficient factual foundation for his opinion, and that his reconstruction methods were unreliable. Accident reconstruction is not a novel science. Townes testified that the computer program he used is widely used and extensively tested. The district court did not abuse its discretion in allowing his testimony.

(2) Townes testified that he reviewed one witness statement, not that he relied on it in forming his opinion. His disclosure did not need to be supplemented.

(3) The motion for new trial was based on Townes’ testimony, which the Court has held was not improper.