Mechanical Engineer Expert Witness Testimony Partially Allowed

Plaintiff sued manufacturer of trash conveyor for numerous allegations, including design defect, after being injured while utilizing the machine on the job.  The Plaintiff hired Roelof H. deVries to provide expert witness testimony on her behalf.  Defendant filed a motion to exclude this testimony.  The court granted the motion in part and denied it in part.

Facts: In this case (McKenzie v. Dematic Corp et al – United States District Court – Western District of Pennsylvania – February 22nd, 2016), the Plaintiff (McKenzie) sued Defendants for negligence, design defect, and failure to warn, when she was injured while operating a trash conveyor, manufactured by the Dematic.   To assist in proving her case, McKenzie hired Roelof H. deVries as a mechanical engineering expert witness.  DeVries produced a report, which addressed four issues: 1) Whether the conveyor was defective; 2) If the defect made the conveyor unreasonably dangerous; 3) If the conveyor is important to the warehouse building; and 4) if the defect caused the injuries sustained by the McKenzie.  Defendants filed a motion to exclude portions of deVries’ report based on the following arguments: 1) DeVries is not qualified to opine on whether the conveyor is integral to the facility at CVS; 2) DeVries’ opinion on the importance of the conveyor to the facility is not relevant and 3) DeVries’ opinion that the alleged defect in the conveyor caused McKenzie’s injuries are not reliable.

Discussion: Dematic contends that deVries is not qualified to opine that the rash conveyor is not integral to the CVS facility as he is not an architect or a structural engineer.  They point out that deVries has never designed, constructed, or dealt with a conveyor of this type.  The Plaintiff argues that his experience with conveyors and his education qualifies him to testify on this area of the case.  The court agreed with the Defendants, stating that his educational background as well as his experience working with conveyor systems qualifies deVries in this case.

The Defendants also claim that deVries expert opinion that the trash conveyor was not integral to the CVS facility does not pass the reliability test under Daubert.  Specifically, they argue that four specific opinions are not reliable: 1) the ease of quickly installing and removing the conveyor without damaging the facility; 2) the conveyor was previously removed between two locations; 3) the conveyor is not essential to the picking operation; and 4) the facility’s value does not increase with the addition of the conveyor.

The court granted the motion in part, opining that deVries may testify regarding the first two opinions (the installing of the conveyor and the fact that it had been previously been moved), but not the latter two opinions (that the conveyor was necessary and that it adds value to the facility).

The Defendants also challenge the reliability of deVries’ opinion that the alleged defect in the conveyor caused McKenzie’s injuries.  They state that this opinion is unreliable and is based on “blind acceptance” of the plaintiff’s testimony.  They urge the court to exclude the testimony by deVries as to whether a piece of plastic was dangling from the roller.  The court opined that this piece of the testimony was reliable.  The Defendants also argue that deVries should not be permitted to argue that the Plaintiff’s arm was brought to the roller by the plastic.  The court agreed with this argument and excluded this testimony.

Held:  The motion to exclude the testimony of Roelof H. deVries is granted in part and denied in part.