Mechanical Engineering Expert Witness Testimony Allowed in Defective Product Case

Plaintiff filed suit against defendants related to an allegedly defective conveyor belt.  The plaintiff hired a Mechanical Engineering Expert Witness to provide testimony.  The defendant has filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.  The court denied the motion.

Facts:  This case (ELGERT v. SIEMENS APPLIED AUTOMATION, INC. et al – United States District Court – Eastern District of Pennsylvania – March 20th, 2019) involves an allegedly defective product.  The plaintiff alleges that he was seriously injured while servicing an extendable conveyor belt at his work facility.  He has filed suit alleging 1) defective design and negligence.  The plaintiff has hired Thomas Cocchiola (Mechanical Engineering Expert Witness) to provide testimony.  The defendant has filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion:  Cocchiola’s expert opinion has two main conclusions:  1) that the conveyor belt was defectively designed and 2) that there were feasible alternative designs that could have successfully eliminated the stored energy risk that caused the plaintiff’s injury.

The defendants do not dispute Cocchiola’s qualifications as a mechanical engineer.  They do state that Cocchiola’s opinion on warnings or instructions should not be admitted because his career does not include specialized training in those areas.  The court disagrees by opining that Cocchiola’s engineering experience provides a sufficient basis to qualify his opinion about the defendants’ lack of instructions.  The court notes that specific training or experience is not necessary.

The defendants also contend that Cocchiola’s opinion should be excluded because it is not reliable.  The court notes that Cocchiola’s opinion is based on his practical experience as a certified engineer, a review of the record, and the facts established in this case.  In addition, the court notes that Cocchiola also takes into account the generally accepted principles and practices.  Also, the court opines that even though his opinion does not cite any peer-reviewed literature and generally accepted practices, it is still reliable.  Last, the court opines that he does not need to develop or test alternative warnings to render an opinion that the conveyor belt service manual did not provide step-by-step instructions to account for the dangers to users.

The court also notes that Cocchiola’s opinion fits the issues of the case.  In addition, the court opines that Cocchiola’s testimony is particularly helpful in determining whether the existence of suitable instructions could have increased the plaintiff’s anticipated awareness of the dangers inherent in the conveyor belt.  Thus, Cocchiola’s testimony is deemed to be helpful to the jury.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of Thomas Cocchiola is denied.

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