Forensic Engineering Expert Witness Allowed

Plaintiff sued defendant after an accident involving a pallet truck  Plaintiff hired a Forensic Engineering Expert Witness to provide expert testimony. which was challenged by the defendants.  The court sided with the plaintiff.

Facts:  This case (MCMANUS v. BARNEGAT REHABILITATION AND NURSING CENTER et al – United States District Court – District of New Jersey – May 29th, 2018) is a products liability claim involving a manual pallet truck.  The plaintiff alleges that he was injured while unloading a pallet of materials from the truck and was injured.  The plaintiff argues that the defendants did not provide a safe means to make deliveries as well as the fact that the pallet truck malfunctioned during the accident.  The plaintiff has hired Forensic Engineering Expert Witness, Thomas J. Cocchiola, to provide testimony on his behalf.  The defendant filed a motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Mr. Cocchiola.

Discussion:  The defendants assert that Cocchiola is not qualified to provide expert witness testimony in this case because he doesn’t have relevant prior training or experience in pallet truck manufacture or design and that he has never been involved in the manufacturing, designing, or proposing warnings for material handling equipment.  The defendants state that Cocchiola has twenty-seven years as an engineering consultant and has testified as an expert in twenty-one other cases.  Plus, he has been an expert consultant in a case involving a “walkie rider pallet truck” and is involved in numerous engineering associations.  The court agrees with the plaintiff, citing the expert’s decades of engineering experience as well as his previous testimony.

The defendants also allege that Cocchiola’s testimony is not reliable because he did not inspect the pallet truck nor tested any of his opinions.  In addition, they argue that the plaintiff’s testimony is the only basis for Cocchiola’s opinions, did not perform testing on an exemplar truck, and that he identified alternative explanations but failed to negate these explanations.  The plaintiff’s argues that the pallet truck was lost, which prevented Cocchiola from testing the product and that his inspection of the exemplar was sufficient.  The court again agrees with the plaintiff stating that Cocchiola’s inspection of the exemplar allowed him to determine the function of the truck.  In addition, the court maintains that he considered other factors that could have caused the accident, and that he relied on four first-hand accounts of how the pallet truck functioned.

Last, the defendants argue Cocchiola’s opinion does not fit with the case because it is not helpful to the trier of facts and that his conclusions are based entirely on the testimony of the plaintiff.  The plaintiff counters by stating that Cocchiola’s testimony relies on the testimony of several fact witnesses and that his testimony will assist the trier of fact in resolving a factual dispute.  Again, the court agrees with the plaintiff, stating that Cocchiola’s testimony satisfies the “fit” requirement because he inspected the exemplar and reviewed testimony from other witnesses.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Thomas J. Cocchiola is denied.