Labels & Warnings Expert Witness Testimony Not Allowed In Watercraft Case

Plaintiff filed suit against defendant related to an injury while riding a personal watercraft.  Plaintiff hired a Labels & Warnings Expert Witness to provide testimony.  Defendant filed a motion to exclude, which was granted by the district court.  Defendant appealed.  The opinion of the district court was affirmed.

Facts:  This case (Angela Ruggiero v. Yamaha Motor Corp – United States Court of Appeals For the Third Circuit – June 17th, 2019) involves an injury while riding a personal watercraft (PWC).  The plaintiff sued the PWC’s wholesaler, alleging that the PWC was defective because it did not have adequate warnings.  The plaintiff hired William Kitzes, J.D. (Labels & Warnings Expert Witness) to provide expert witness testimony.  The defendant filed a motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Mr. Kitzes on the grounds that his testimony was not reliable and not sufficiently tied to the facts of the case.  The court granted the motion to exclude.  The defendant filed this appeal.

Discussion:  Mr. Kitzes’s testimony would have opined that the warning labels that were on the PWC were not adequate and that the defendant should have placed a warning on the seat of the PWC.  The court determined that Kitzes was qualified to offer an expert opinion in this case, but excluded his testimony because it was not reliable and not sufficiently tied to the facts of the case.

The district court opined that Kitzes opinion about the location of the warning was “at best, an educated guess”.  The court also noted that Kitzes did not perform any tests or focus groups, did not take any measurements, did not rely on any articles on location of warnings, and did not examine the PWC.  Thus, the district court opined that Kitzes’s opinions were speculation and not based on reliable methodology.

The plaintiff alleges that Kitzes’s opinion was built on his review of photographs of the PWC, the owner’s manual, and other safety information.  In addition, the plaintiff alleges that he also based his opinion on his familiarity with other PWCs.  This court opines that this information would not show whether those warnings would reach intended users, and thus the district court did not abuse its discretion when it found he basis of Kitze’s opinion as not sufficient.

The plaintiff also alleges that Kitze’s opinion was reliable because he cites to American National Standards Institute (“ANSI”) standards and is critical of the defendant based on the failure to comply with these standards.  The district court opined that, while he did rely on the ANSI standard, he “failed to articulate his methodology supporting how he arrived at the conclusion that a passenger seat warning is ‘readily visible’ under the standard, and how the existing front and rear warning system falls short.”

Conclusion:  The opinion of the district court excluding the expert witness testimony of William Kitzes, J.D. is affirmed.