Louisiana Court Rules that Testimony Regarding Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) Brain Scans, Which Suggest Evidence of Plaintiff’s Traumatic Brain Injury, are Admissible in Court

Above: An example of a DTI scan of an adult brain. The colors show the white matter fiber tracts of the brain. Image Source: Zeynep Saygin, MIT McGovern Institute

After a neuroscientist opined that a plaintiff’s diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) scans were consistent with evidence of traumatic brain injury (TBI), the defense filed a motion to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana to exclude the expert testimony. The defense argued first that the evidence “[would] confuse and mislead the jury,” and second that the doctor’s testimony regarding the DTI findings “fails the standards for expert testimony.” The defense, citing to Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and Daubert, argued that the neuroscientist “cannot testify the DTI findings were more likely than not caused by the accident,” and additionally argued that DTI analysis is not based on reliable principles and methodology.

The case involved a car accident that took place on October 22, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The plaintiff alleges that the defendant’s 18-wheeler truck hit his car unexpectedly and that he suffered a traumatic brain injury in the collision. In February 2019, the plaintiff’s treating neurologist diagnosed him with post-concussive syndrome “marked by memory and attention lapses, and two episodes of lost consciousness after coughing.” His treating neuropsychologist also diagnosed him with post-concussive syndrome as well as post-traumatic stress disorder.

The evidence of particular interest relates to neuroscientist Dr. Jeffery Lewine’s testimony regarding the plaintiff’s DTI brain scans. According to the brief, “Dr. Lewine would testify regarding results of Plaintiff’s diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) tests, which indicate abnormally high fractional anisotropy (FA) values in Plaintiff’s brain, a possible indication of TBI.” Thus, “Dr. Lewine would offer his opinion regarding whether Plaintiff’s FA values are consistent with a diagnosis of TBI.” On March 6, 2020, the defendants filed an “instant Motion seeking to exclude Dr. Lewine’s testimony and any evidence concerning DTI analysis.”

The district court ultimately denied the motion, stating that “Dr. Lewine’s findings are not unfairly prejudicial, misleading, or cumulative.” They stated that “[the DTI findings] are obviously relevant to the issue of whether, and to what extend, Plaintiff has suffered a brain injury resulting from the crash, [and] as in any other case, it is for the jury to decide whether Plaintiff’s alleged brain injury was caused by the crash.” In regards to the defendant’s claim that the testimony “fails the standard for expert testimony,” the court stated that in this case, “the jury will not decide causation based only on Dr. Lewine’s DTI analysis because Plaintiff’s attending physicians . . . have also submitted evidence indicating a brain injury.” The court also stated that they “reject [the] Defendants’ challenge to the reliability of DTI, and joins the consensus view that DTI has been tested and has a low error rate; DTI has been subject to peer review and publication; and DTI is a generally accepted method for detecting TBI.”

Accordingly, the court deemed the testimony admissible.

Key words: DTI, traumatic brain injury, post-concussive syndrome, expert evidence, admissibility, Daubert, Louisiana

Citation: Meadors v. P. D’Agostino, 2020 WL 6342637

This post is the 21st post as part of an ongoing Center for Law, Brain & Behavior (CLBB) series tracking the latest developments in law and neuroscience cases. To see previous posts about recent cases, see the full case archive on the CLBB website. To see updates on legal scholarship, see the Neurolaw News, hosted by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. This project is made possible through support of the Dana Foundation.

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Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

at Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School