Human Factors Engineering Expert Witness Testimony Not Allowed in Products Liability Case

Plaintiffs filed suit against defendants related to a products liability claim.  Plaintiffs hired a Human Factors Engineering Expert Witness to provide testimony.  Defendants filed a motion to exclude, which was granted by the court.

Facts:  This case (GOMEZ et al v. HARBOR FREIGHT TOOLS USA INC et al – United States District Court – Middle District of Georgia – April 22nd, 2019) involves a products liability claim.  The claim involves a plastic gas container that exploded when the plaintiff poured a mixture of diesel and gasoline onto a mostly extinguished fire.  The plaintiffs have hired Human Factors Engineering Expert Witness Dr. Robert Cunitz to provide testimony.  The defendants have filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion:  Dr. Cunitz has a bachelors and masters degree in psychology from Lehigh University and a Ph.D. in experimental and human factors psychology from the University of Maryland.  Dr. Cunitz has been a licensed psychologist for forty years, is a Certified Human Factors Professional, and has designed warnings for a number of products.

Dr. Cunitz will opine that the gas can had a design defect because it lacked a flame arrestor, that the defect could not be addressed by having warnings, that the defendants had a duty to evaluate the gas can’s safety, that the warnings on the gas can were not adequate, and that a failure to provide adequate warnings was a cause of the plaintiffs’ injuries.  The court already opined on a few of these issues at the summary judgment stage.  The questions remaining is whether he may testify that the gas can had a design defect or that the defendants breached their duties by selling the gas can without evaluating its safety.

The court opines that Dr. Cunitz is a psychologist and human factors expert, not an engineer.  In addition, the plaintiffs did not refer to any scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge that Dr. Cunitz has that qualifies him to opine that the gas can had a design defect.  That Dr. Cunitz reviewed some articles and reports about gas can safety does not qualify him to provide expert testimony in this case.  Thus, the court opines that Dr. Cunitz will not be allowed to opine on whether the gas can had a design defect.

Also, the court opines that Dr. Cunitz is not qualified to offer an opinion that the defendants had a duty to evaluate the safety of the gas can before selling it.  The plaintiffs did not point to any scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge of Dr. Cunitz that qualifies him to testify on the duties of retailers and whether the defendants breached those duties.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude Dr. Robert Cunitz from testifying is granted.