Three Expert Witnesses Allowed in Tree Stand Ladder Case

Plaintiff fell off a tree stand ladder manufactured by the defendant.  Plaintiff sued and hired an expert witness to help prove his case.  The defendant hired two experts as well.  Both parties filed motions to exclude.  The court denied these motions.

Facts:  This case (Jordan Queen v. W.I.C., Inc. d/b/a Sniper Treestands –  United States District Court – Southern District of Illinois – March 31st, 2017) involves a tree stand that collapsed.  The plaintiff (Queen) maintains that while he was at the top of the stand’s ladder, the ladder bent and he fell.  Queen alleges that because of serious injuries, he incurred medical expenses and lost wages and will continue to lose wages.  Queen hired  Dr. Christopher W. Ramsey (metallurgy expert witness) to provide expert testimony and the defendant hired L.J. Smith (sports & recreation expert witnesses) and George M. Saunders (mechanical engineering expert witness)

Discussion: While the defendant does not dispute that Ramsey is qualified as a metallurgist, they do argue that he has never erected nor has he seen anyone erect a ladder stand.  In addition, he has never designed a ladder stand and has never authored any warnings or instructions for these types of ladders or other hunting products.  The court disagreed, stating that Ramsey’s experience, education, as well as being a qualified expert in 24 cases since 2012 qualifies him to provide expert witness testimony in this case.

In addition, Sniper argues that Ramsey’s investigation and testing were not reliable and that his conclusions lack evidentiary and factual support.  Queen maintains that Ramsey investigated the tree stand and reviewed pleadings and depositions in this case and applied metallurgical principles when forming his opinion.  The court agreed with Queen, stating that Ramsey used reliable methods that are common in the metallurgy field.  In addition, the court ruled that Ramsey’s testimony will help the trier of fact in making their decision.

Queen does not challenge Smith’s qualifications as a hunting accident reconstructionist, but does question the reliability and relevancy of his opinions.  Specifically, they argue that his opinions on the tree stand not bending inwards lacks foundation.  In addition, Queen argues that Smith did not inspect the tree stand until it was recovered from the accident site, which makes his testimony unreliable.   Sniper argues that Smith’s opinion was based on his pleadings and his personal inspection of the ladder, the tree stand, and the accident site.

The court opined that Smith’s opinions are based in information that he learned during discovery, a reviewing of photos of the tree stand, and through deposition testimony and pleadings.  The court agreed, stating that his conclusions are based on more than subjective belief and speculation that is unsupported.  In addition, the court ruled that Smith’s criss-cross strap testimony is relevant as well.  Last, the court ruled that Smith’s opinions will assist the trier of fact.

Queen last question’s the reliability of Saunders’ expert testimony because 1) his testing of exemplar tree stands differ from the tree stand at issue; 2) his opinions were based on the ladder leaning away from the tree; 3) his calculations that the tree stand could have bent inward are not correct; and 4) his opinion regarding the carbon steel tubing was ipse dixit.  Again, the court agreed with the plaintiff and denied this motion to exclude.

Conclusion:  The motions to exclude the testimony of the three experts are denied.