Articles Posted in Expert Witnesses

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a plaintiff’s verdict in a products liability case notwithstanding the defendant’s assertion that the plaintiff’s expert should have been excluded under Daubert.

In Lapsley v. Xtech, Inc., No. 11-3313 (7th Cir. July 27, 2012) Industrial grease was propelled in a jet with enough energy to penetrate and pass through  the  human  body  like  a  bullet. That  jet hit and disabled plaintiff Leonard Lapsley.  The jury found that the accident occurred because defendant defectively designed the piece of equipment that propelled the grease.

Defendant challenged the admissibility of plaintiff’s expert witness, arguing that he lacked a scientific basis for his testimony.  The trial judge permitted the witness to testify, and the defendant challenged that ruling on appeal after a jury found it liable for Lapsley’s injuries.

Tennessee has a goofy rule concerning expert witnesses that, to my knowledge and belief, exists in no other state.
 
Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-115(b) requires any expert witness in a medical malpractice state to practice in Tennessee or a border state unless the trial court “determines that the appropriate witnesses otherwise would not be available.”

 
The alleged purpose of the contiguous state rule is to increase the likelihood that the witness will know the applicable standard of care.  The actual result of this rule is to make it more difficult to find expert witnesses, particularly in specialty medical areas or when the defendant is well-known.  

Tennessee law requires that the plaintiff present expert proof that the defendant violated the standard of care applicable in the community in which the care was given at the time the care was given.  Proof of the standard can come from an otherwise qualified expert who knows the standard of care in that community or in a similar community.  This rule is codified in Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-115(a). 

In Marsha McDonald v. Paul F. Shea, M.D. and Shea Ear Clinic, No. W2010-02317-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. February 16, 2012),  the Court of Appeals engaged in a lengthy discussion of whether Plaintiff ’s expert was qualified to testify under Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-26-115(a). The court’s reasoning was guided by the recent Tennessee Supreme Court case of Shipley v. Williams, 350 S.W.3d 527 (Tenn. 2011). In Shipley, the Supreme Court rejected the notion that an expert must have personal, first-hand knowledge of the standard of care by actually practicing in a community. The Supreme Court also held that “expert medical testimony regarding a broader regional standard or a national standard should not be barred, but should be considered as an element of the expert witness’ knowledge of the standard of care in the same or similar community.”

These two holdings in Shipley gutted the majority of Defendants’ objections to the competency of Plaintiff ’s expert in this case.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has sent a clear signal on what the federal courts in Tennessee and the other states that comprise the 6th Circuit should look at when reviewing a Daubert challenge to expert testimony.

In Newell Rubbermaid, Inc. v. The Raymond Corporation, No. 10-3912 (6th Cir. April 3, 2012), the plaintiff corporation filed a subrogation against defendant seeking recovery of monies plaintiff paid to plaintiff’s employee who was injured while using a forklift manufactured by defendant.  

The Plaintiff’s expert was Benjamin T. Railsback.  The Court explained that "Railsback, a forensic engineer with no experience in driving a Raymond forklift and only limited experience in driving forklifts from other manufacturers, opined that the Dockstocker was defectively designed because it did not have a rear guard door to prevent the operator’s feet from accidentally leaving the operator compartment. Raymond moved to exclude Railsback’s testimony."

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a district court’s finding that an expert witness was not qualified to testify on behalf of a plaintiff in a health care liability action, relying on Shipley v. Williams, 350 S.W.3d 527 (2011). 

In Bock v. University of Tennessee Medical Group, Inc., No. 10-5534 (6th Cir. March 26, 2012), the court ruled that Shipley required a remand but also made it very clear that merely determining a witness to be competent to give expert testimony did not end the inquiry.  After competency is determined, case law and evidence rules in federal court still require application of the  FRE 702 as interpreted by Daubert.  The record was such that the court could not make the determination of these issues and thus a remand was appropriate.

The case includes a helpful discussion of the interaction between the Erie rule and the Federal Rules of Evidence and how the 6th Circuit has addressed the issue.  Surprisingly, the United States Supreme Court has never directly addressed the issue.

Robert Ambrogi has shared the existence of a fascinating service concerning expert witnesses.

The service, called Expert Witness Profiler, checks into the expert’s background, testimonial history, social media profile, and more.  Here is what the profile includes:

  • Testimonial history.
  • Challenge (Daubert/Frye) history.
  • Disciplinary history.
  • Licensing and certifications (including verification).
  • Educational background (including verification).
  • Professional background.
  • Associations and memberships.
  • Personal information.
  • Publications.
  • Teaching and research.
  • Patents, trademarks, and copyrights.
  • References in news, blogs and social media.

Purchasers of the profile receive a booklet covering the items listed above. Hyperlinks within the document take you to relevant cases, orders, and other documents. The service will also include transcripts, motions and briefs relating to the expert or to challenges to the expert.  The company’s website includes this sample profile.

The Tennessee Bar Journal has published an article I wrote concerning the permissible scope of expert testimony.    The article discusses the decision of the Tennessee Court of Appeals in Holder v. Westgate Resorts Ltd..  Here is the majority opinion and here is the concurring / dissenting opinion of Judge Susano.

This is an excerpt of the article, titled "That’s (Not) a Fact, Jack:"

The majority opinion in Holder has grave implications for the trial of cases involving experts. It has the potential for injustice to plaintiffs and defendants. Fortunately, the Tennessee Supreme Court accepted review of the case. In the view of this writer, the court should send a clear message that the proffered testimony in this case was properly excluded and that otherwise inadmissible facts, data and opinions should not normally find their way to the fact finder merely because an expert witness wants to testify about them.

The Tennessee Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on May 11, 2011 in Holder v. Westgate Resorts, Ltd.,  E2009-01312-SC-R11-C (Tenn. Ct. App. 2010).

Here is the summary of the opinion prepared by the Court of Appeals:

Plaintiff sustained personal injuries resulting from a fall on defendant’s premises

A plaintiff in a slip and fall case in New York was permitted to testify as an expert on pigeon droppings.

The plaintiff in Stewart v. New York City Tr. Auth.  2011 NY Slip Op 01593  (NY 1st App. Div. Mar. 3, 2011) slipped and fell on pigeon poop at a subway station.  The opinion says this about pigeon poop:

 

There was nothing manifestly untrue or incredible about plaintiff’s testimony that he often observed pigeon droppings on the subway stairs that he used every day and that he was caused to slip because of the presence of pigeon droppings on the very same set of stairs. Indeed, the station cleaner similarly testified that he had "experience on a daily basis with pigeon [droppings] and having to clean it from these steps," and that he was taught to put sand over the pigeon droppings because they were slippery.

The Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey has ruled that an expert should not be required to reveal details about his income from testifying as an expert witness.

In Gensollen v. Pareja,  No. A-0401010T3, (N.J.A.D. 11/19/10), doctor who examined the plaintiff in a personal injury case admitted in a deposition that over 95% of his litigation work was for defendants.  He also testified that testified that he conducted an average of eight to nine IMEs per week. He also testified that his two doctor orthopedic firm charges a fee of $895 per exam, but would impose additional charges depending on the extent of records and x-ray or MRI studies reviewed in a given case.

Plaintiff wanted more data to show bias, and the trial judge ordered defendant to produce, at his own cost, (a) documentation indicating the percentage of the firm’s findings in the past five (5) years that supported the premise that plaintiff suffered no type of permanent injury, (b) documentation indicating the percentage of the firm’s work that is defense related and the percentage of his work that is plaintiff related; and (c) documentation indicating what monies in the past five (5) years have been paid by defense attorneys to the firm for conducting medical exams.