Human Factors Engineering Expert Witness Not Allowed

Plaintiff tripped over the lower part of a cart while shopping at defendant’s store.  Plaintiff hired a human factors engineering expert witness to help prove her case.  Defendant filed a motion to exclude this expert witness testimony, which was granted by the court.

Facts:  This case (Plunkett v. Best Buy Co Inc – United States District Court – Western District of Washington – October 31st, 2017) involves a slip and fall.  The plaintiff (Plunket) alleges that she tripped over a protruding lower tray of a shopping cart, which was one of many nested together in an aisle of the store.  To help prove her case, Plunkett hired  Joellen Gill (human factors engineering expert witness) to provide expert witness testimony.  The defendant (Best Buy) filed a motion to exclude Ms. Gill’s expert witness testimony.

Discussion: The court opined that Ms. Gill’s testimony should be excluded for four reasons.

First, the court stated that Ms. Gill’s report is not based on accurate photographic evidence.  The court maintained that Ms. Gill relied on photographic images that  that were not the actual carts involved in the fall.  In addition, the photographs were not accurate depictions of the circumstances surrounding the fall.  In addition, the photographs show two different types of carts.

Next, Ms. Gill did not consider important evidence before she wrote her report. She did not review surveillance video of the fall, did not visit Best Buy’s store, did not examine the carts involved in the incident, or examine the location of the row of carts. In addition, she did not review any discovery that was produced by Best Buy.

Third, the court ruled that Ms. Gill’s expert testimony is speculative.  As an example, the court points to her testimony that states that perturbations should be visually salient from 25 feet or more.  The issue with this statement is that there is no evidence that the carts were not visually salient from 25 feet or more.  After citing other examples, the court opined that Ms. Gill’s opinion is based on speculation and does not consider other important facts in the case.

Last, the court opined that an expert opinion is not needed to assist the trier of fact in this case. Normal life experiences of a jury would allow them to form conclusions about the carts in the aisle of the store.  Thus, Ms. Gill’s opinion will not assist the trier of fact in this case.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Joellen Gill was granted.