Professional Engineering Expert Witness Testimony Allowed, In Part

Summary: Professional Engineering Expert Witness allowed to provide testimony in part even though the defendant argued that the expert’s opinions would not assist the trier of fact.

Facts:  This case (Leftridge v. Speedway LLC – United States District Court – Northern District of Indiana – October 10th, 2019) involves a slip and fall claim.  The plaintiff Tayell Leftridge alleges that the defendant Speedway should be liable for injuries that she suffered when she slipped and fell on a wet floor at one of defendant’s stores in Hobart, Indiana.  The plaintiff has hired H. Richard Hicks (Professional Engineering Expert Witness) to provide testimony.  The defendant has filed a motion to exclude this expert from testifying.

Discussion: The court notes that Hicks investigated the incident and prepared a report which detailed his findings.  The defendant argues that Hicks’s opinion will not help the trier of fact in this case because his testimony, that a wet floor may present a slipping hazard, is within the knowledge of an average juror.

The defendant also states that Hicks’s opinions do not come from specialized knowledge, but comes from a general understanding that a floor may be slippery when wet and that slippery floors may present a fall hazard. The defendant argues that therefore, the testimony will not assist the jury in understanding evidence or determine the relevant facts.  The court notes that the plaintiff has said that Hicks will testify as to more than just the notion that a wet floor might cause a person to slip.

The plaintiff states that Hicks will address the failure of the defendant to put drying equipment or signage in the area before mopping, and the contribution of employees’ actions to the creation of the dangerous conditions, and a violation od the defendant’s own safety requirements.  The defendant also argues that Hicks should not be permitted to offer opinions on whether the defendant satisfied the legal standard of care or whether the actions of the employees created a dangerous condition as these are case-determinative legal issues.

The court opines that, in the current case, there are no complex scientific requiring the explanation of an expert.  In addition, the jury does not require assistance in being able to understand that floors can become wet via mopping and that wet floors can be slippery.  The court also opines that Hicks’s report does address industry standards for slip and fall prevention issues and guidance to commercial establishments on how to limit risk to customers.

The court opines that Hicks’s testimony about the conditions of the defendant’s store can be helpful to the jury, but he may not opine as to the ultimate issue of whether the defendant adhered to industry standards, whether the defendant breached its duty of care to the plaintiff, or otherwise address the ultimate legal issue of the defendant’s alleged negligence.

Conclusion:  The motion to exclude the expert witness testimony of H. Richard Hicks is granted in part and denied in part.