Forensic Engineers’ Expert Testimony on Alleged Hair Dryer Failure Allowed.

Two forensic engineers were hired to offer their opinions on the alleged failure of a hair dryer.  Both motions to exclude their testimony were denied.

Facts:  This case (Czuchaj v. Conair Corp – United States District Court – Southern District of California – August 19th, 2016) is a certified class action involving the sale of the Conair (defendant) Infiniti Pro 1875 Watt model 259/2791 hair dryer.  The plaintiffs allege that the hair dryer has two defects (a cord defect and a coil defect) that results in a fire hazard and burn risk.  In order to help prove their respective cases, both parties hired forensic engineering expert witnesses.  The plaintiffs retained Phil Van Herle and the defendant retained Robert Carnahan.

Discussion:  Mr. Van Herle opined on the defects of the cord and the coil at issue.  Regarding the cord, he reported that a design defect results in a cord that can be stressed when flexed or twisted, which leads to failure of the cord wires, which can present a burn injury or fire hazard.  He was then asked to opine whether the coil defect that existed in defendants “Neumax” edition of the hair dryer also existed in the “Silver Plan” and “Sun Luen” editions.  He concluded that high vibration values, mica wear, and close spacing of the heater coils were design issues common to all three editions of the hair dryer.

The defendant filed a motion to exclude Mr. Van Herle’s testimony on the grounds that he is not qualified to testify about the cord and coild defects and that his opinions are based on inadequate and flawed testing.

The defendant argues that Mr. Van Herle is a fire investigation expert and has no experience with designing hair driers or home grooming appliances.  The court disagreed, stating that experts do not have to have previous experience with the product, but must be qualified by knowledge, education, skill, or training.  The court opined that Mr. Van Herle’s background and experience qualifies him to testify about the design defects in the hair dryers.

The defendant next states that Mr. Van Herle arrived at his conclusions on visual observation alone and did not conduct any scientific or mathematical testing.  In addition, they claim that he did not perform any research.  They argue that there are industry standards to test line cords and strain reliefs, and Mr. Van Herle did not use them.  The court disagreed, stating that his testimony seems to be based on his experience and discipline and is supported by engineering equations.  Any arguments related to the weakness of his opinions go to the weight of his testimony. Also, defendant’s second argument relating to the reliability of of Mr. Van Herle’s testimony on the coil defect, the court opined that any arguments go to the weight of the testimony, not the admissibility.

The defendant hired  Robert Carnahan to rebut the opinions of Mr. Van Herle.  He opines that the hair dryer failures could have occurred for other reasons, such as customer abuse.  The plaintiffs argue that certain opinions which are phrased as “may have” or “may result” should be excluded as speculative and not admissible.  The court disagreed, stating that since Mr. Carnahan is a rebuttal witness, he does not need to offer an ultimate opinion as to what caused the failures of the hair dryers.

Conclusion:  The motions to exclude both expert witness testimonies are denied.