Human Factors Engineering Expert Witness Testimony Allowed in Civil Rights Case

Plaintiff filed suit against defendant related to a civil right action.  Plaintiff hired a Human Factors Engineering Expert Witness to provide testimony.  Defendant filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.  The court denied the motion.

Facts:  This case (McKinney v. Franklin County Illinois et al – United States District Court – Southern District of Illinois – February 8th, 2019) involves a civil right action arising from the death of a 12 year old while he was detained in custody, control, and care of the defendants.  The plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages.  The plaintiff has hired Dr. Tyler Kress (Human Factors Engineering Expert Witness) to provide testimony.  The defendant has filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion:  The defendants argue that  because the plaintiff’s expert are not psychologists, they are not qualified to offer any opinions in this case.  They also argue that the expert opinions are not relevant because they will not help the jury in deciding the one relevant question of whether any defendant was deliberately indifferent to a known risk that the 12 year old would take his own life.

Dr. Kress is an engineer with experience in safety, human factors, accident reconstruction, and injury prevention.  He has taught engineering and safety courses at university and graduate levels for over 30 years.  Dr. Kress offers the opinion that the defendants failed to conduct adequate watch tours in violation of policies and procedures.

To reach his opinion, Dr. Kress studied case specific materials, training materials, video surveillance, and depositions of defendants employees.  In addition, he conducted a site inspection during which he examined the control area of the pods, the layout and configuration of the individual cells within the pod, and the 12 year old’s cell.  Dr. Kress took numerous measurements, collected laser scanning data of the pod and the 12 year old’s room, and took numerous photographs and videos.

The defendants argue that Dr. Kress’s opinions are not relevant because the only relevant question in this case is whether any defendant disregarded a known risk that the 12 year old was on the verge of committing suicide.

The court opines that the risk of the 12 year old’s suicide is an issue in this case, it is not the sole relevant question in this case.  The court also opines that Dr. Kress’s opinions are relevant to plaintiff’s claims that the defendants maintained unconstitutional policies, procedures, and widespread practices in terms of policies and procedures.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Dr. Tyler Kress is denied.