Human Factors Engineering Expert Witness Testimony Allowed In Part

Plaintiff sued defendant after injuries sustained while operating a forklift.  Plaintiff hired a Human Factors Engineering Expert Witness to provide testimony.  Defendant filed a motion to exclude expert from testifying.  The court denied the motion in part and granted it in part.

Facts: This case (Vazquez v. The Raymond Corporation et al – United States District Court – Northern District of Georgia – January 11th, 2019) involves a products liability action.  The plaintiff argues that the defendant should be held responsible for injuries sustained while he was operating a forklift.  The plaintiff’s left foot was crushed because it was outside of the operator compartment at the time of the collision.  The plaintiff’s claim involves a design defect, manufacturing defect, and negligence.  The plaintiff has hired Dr. Ruston Hunt (Human Factors Engineering Expert Witness) to provide testimony.  The defendants have filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion:  The defendants argue that Dr. Hunt should not be allowed to testify because he is not qualified and because his opinions are not reliable.  The court opines that Dr. Hunt is qualified to testify as a human factors and warnings expert.  The court states that Dr. Hunt has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in industrial engineering and a PhD in mechanical engineering.  He has taught courses dealing with human factors and has served as an expert in numerous cases, offering an opinion concerning human reaction time and the viability of warnings.

The court, however, opines that Dr. Hunt is not qualified to offer opinions on design defects.  The court continues by stating that Dr. Hunt does not have the training, education, or experience in designing forklifts or similar products.  He has never designed a forklift and has never been a member of any committee which authors safety standards for forklifts.  In addition, he has never been employed by or consulted with a forklift manufacturer.  The court thus opines that Dr. Hunt is clearly not qualified to testify on design defects.

The court also opines that Dr. Hunt may testify on his opinion that Raymond should not use warnings because it should change the design, relying on the opinion of Thomas Berry, but he may not provide his own opinions regarding design.  In addition, the court opines that Dr. Hunt will be allowed to testify about bailing off instructions and their effect upon users of the stand-up forklift.

Dr. Hunt opines that the injury incurred by the plaintiff would have been prevented if his forklift had been equipped with a rear guard/door.  The court will not allow this opinion as it is a quintessential design defect opinion.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Dr. Ruston Hunt is denied in part and granted in part.