Court reverses trial judge; concludes Estate's witness on cause of death should have been allowed to testify
85-year old Abdulla Kassem struck the rear of an apparently unlighted tractor-trailer traveling at slow speed on MIller Road in Wayne County. The weather was dark with precipitation and Kassem left no brake marks before striking the trailer. He was found unconscious in the car and never recovered. His family claimed that he essentially "died of fright" as a result of his belated recognition of the impending impact. They presented the testimony of long-time Wayne and Macomb County Pathologist Werner Spitz to support this claim.
The trucking company defendant argued that Spitz should not be allowed to testify because he could not exclude the possibility that Kassem suffered a myocardial infarct that left him unconscious before he recognized or struck the allegedly slow-moving and unlit truck. The court held a hearing to assess the scientific support for Spitz's testimony, and he provided numerous medical studies documenting the potential of a sudden stress or fright to initiate a cardiac event in a person with existing coronary artery disease.
The judge concluded that Spitz' testimony was not supported by scientific evidence and that it lacked foundation. The Kassem family appealed this ruling and the Court of Appeals unanimously reversed. The higher court judges noted that Spitz was not obligated to exclude all possible explanations for the event and that his theory of what happened was supported by the facts and the medical literature. Given that support, it was up to the jury to decide whether his opinion was the more probable explanation of what happened.