Forensic Engineering Expert Witness Testimony Allowed

Plaintiff sued defendant after being injured while operating a salt spreader.  The defendant challenged the expert witness testimony of plaintiff’s engineering expert.  The judge denied the motion.

Facts:  This case (Linhares v. Buyers Prods. Co. – United States District Court – District of Massachusetts – September 2nd, 2016) involves an injury that the plaintiff (Linhares) sustained while working on a self-contained stainless steel hopper salt spreader.  While attempting to force salt through the spreader’s screen with his boots, Linhares alleges that he fell into an opening and injured himself.  He then filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer of the salt spreader for defective design.  In order to prove his case, he hired  John Orlowski (forensic engineering expert witnesses) to evaluate the design of the salt spreader.

In his report, Orlowski opined that the hopper screen had a large open area into one could step and was defective and unreasonable dangerous.  He noted that this design contributed to Linhares’s injuries.  He also stated that the defendant (Buyers) should have affixed this opening with a hinged cover when the united was not in operation.

Buyers then filed a motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Orlowski.

Discussion: Buyers argues that Orlowski is not qualified to provide opinions on the design of the salt spreader, his opinions are not based on enough facts or data, and that he did not apply his methods to the facts of this case.

Buyers cites two similar cases in which the expert was excluded because he was not qualified to opine on the design and workings of a salt spreader.   The court opined that even though Orlowski does not have experience with salt spreaders, the issue at hand is the screen that lays on top of the spreader.  Orlowski has sufficient qualifications to offer an opinion of the screen over the salt spreader apparatus.

Buyers also argues that there is no evidence that other persons have tripped on the opening in the salt spreader.    They also state that Linhares was responsible for the accident because he sprayed cold water on the spreader and was moving backwards when he stamped.  They state that Orlowski should have researched the lifting mechanism used by other manufacturers of salt spreaders.  The court again rejected this notion, stating that extensive research would not have made Orlowski’s opinions more grounded in data and facts. Orlowski based his opinions on his inspection of the salt spreader, the owners and installation manual, drawings, and other discovery material.  This is enough data to provide an opinion on the design of the salt spreader.

Last, Buyers argues that Orlowski did not correctly apply his methodology to the facts of the case and that he failed to perform his own independent investigation as to the cause of the accident.   The court disagreed, stating that Orlowski gathered as much information as he could about the design of the product, the cause of the accident, and how the individual interacted with the salt spreader.  Any other arguments about the cause of the accident and Linhares’s method of clearing the screen is not based on admissibility of evidence, but their weight.

Conclusion:  The court denied Buyers motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of John Orlowski.