Mechanical Engineering Expert Witness Not Allowed in Step Stool Litigation

Summary: Mechanical Engineering Expert Witness not allowed to testify in step stool product liability claim even though the judge ruled that he is qualified to provide testimony.

Facts:  This case (Brosius v. The Home Depot Inc. et al – United States District Court – Middle District of Florida – February 7th, 2022) involves a product liability claim.  Plaintiff Beverly Brosius claims that she suffered injuries while using a HBPRO3-15 step stool branded as a Gorilla Ladders Step Stool.  Brosius says that she fell from the step stool while replacing a “shade sail”, which covers her back patio, dislocating her left knee and fracturing her left tibia plateau. In order to prove her case, Brosius hired Mechanical Engineering Expert Witness John S. Morse, Ph.D., P.E. to provide expert testimony on her behalf.  Defendant Home Depot has filed a motion to exclude Dr. Morse from providing testimony.

Discussion: The court notes that Dr. Morse’s testimony included a review of the materials, testing the incident step stool, examined photographs of the accident scene and researched literature pertinent to the case.  Home Depot claims that Dr. Morse’s testimony should be excluded because he did not employ any methodology and that his “purely visual” inspection of the step stool is not an accepted way of determining defect or causation in the scientific community. In addition, Home Depot argues that Dr. Morse did not conduct background research or verify his theories, did not seek peer review of his theories, and did not calculate an error rate.

The court states that Dr. Morse obtained his Ph.D from Louisiana State University and he is a Licensed Professional Engineer in five states as well as publishing numerous articles in peer-reviewed engineering journals.  The defendant does not dispute Dr. Morse’s education or professional qualifications.  Rather, Home Depot argues that Dr. Morse doesn’t have any experience in designing or manufacturing ladders.  The court disagrees with this argument, stating that Dr. Morse has investigated more than 500 ladder-related accidents and has taught several seminars about warnings.

In addition, Home Depot argues that Dr. Morse’s expert witness testimony is not reliable because he is an “expert for hire” and that his opinions were generated solely for this litigation and not the product of independent research.  The judge rejects this notion.

However, the judge does opine that Dr. Morse does not dot describe the methodology he used to test the force to engage the latch or the size of the step overhang.  Thus, these opinions will be excluded as they will not assist the trier of fact.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness opinion of Dr. John S. Morse, Ph.D., P.E. is granted.