Federal Appellate Court Overseeing Indiana District Courts Discusses Expert Testimony in Recent Product Liability Case

Earlier this month, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a product liability case discussing whether the lower court properly prevented the plaintiff’s expert from testifying. While the case did not arise in Indiana, it raises important issues for Indiana personal injury victims regarding the use and selection of expert witnesses. Additionally, the case provides some guidance for Indiana litigants, in that Indiana is in the Seventh Circuit.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was seriously injured at work while getting off a “car crushing” machine. Evidently, he slipped on a puddle of hydraulic fluid that had leaked from the machine. The plaintiff could not pursue a personal injury case against his employer due to the availability of workers’ compensation benefits. However, the plaintiff filed a claim against the manufacturer of the machine, as well as the company that leased the machine to the plaintiff’s employer. The plaintiff claimed that the machine was defectively designed.

In support of his claim, the plaintiff presented a professor in mechanical engineering as an expert witness. The expert planned to testify that the machine should have had a ladder, toe boards, and a guardrail installed to make it safe for users. The expert presented a safer proposed design in theory, but did not offer any sketches or elaborate on the concept.

On the defendant’s motion, the court struck the expert’s testimony. The court held that the testimony was insufficient to meet Federal Rule of Evidence 702, requiring an expert reliably apply the principles and methods to the facts of the case. The court based its decision on the following reasons:

  • That the expert was not familiar with how daily maintenance should be performed on the machine;
  • That the expert failed to offer a reasonable alternative design; and
  • That the safety standard cited by the expert did not require a fixed ladder.

Without any admissible expert testimony, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s case. The plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case, finding that the expert’s methodology was unclear. The court explained that product liability cases have five elements, each of which must be proven:

  1. a condition of the product as a result of manufacturing or design,
  2. that made the product unreasonably dangerous,
  3. and that existed at the time the product left the defendant’s control, and
  4. an injury to the plaintiff,
  5. that was proximately caused by the condition.

Here, the court concluded that the plaintiff could prove that the product was unreasonably dangerous without helpful expert testimony. Because the expert’s testimony, in this case, was insufficient to assist the jury in making the necessary findings, the testimony was inadmissible, and the plaintiff could not prove his claim.

Have You Been Injured in an Indiana Workplace Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in an Indiana slip-and-fall accident, or any other accident caused by a dangerous or defective product, contact the dedicated Indiana personal injury lawyers at the law firm of Padove Law. At Padove law, we represent injury victims in all types of claims against product manufacturers and distributors, as well as others in the supply chain. To learn more, call 877-446-5294 to schedule a free consultation today.