Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued an opinion in a product liability case that illustrates the importance of vetting and selecting an expert witness in an Indiana product liability case. Ultimately, the court concluded that the experts whom the plaintiff planned to have testify at trial did not base their opinions on sufficiently reliable methodology, and thus it excluded the experts’ opinions from testimony.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff’s son was killed in a house fire in the plaintiff’s basement. After the fire, investigators searched through the basement for signs of what could have caused the fire. Several battery cells from their son’s laptop were recovered. One of the battery cells had ruptured, and the plaintiffs believed it was due to a defect in the battery. Thus, the plaintiffs filed a product liability case against the manufacturer of the laptop, the battery, and several components of the battery.
In support of their case, the plaintiffs presented testimony from two expert witnesses. The first was a “battery expert” who had a PhD in inorganic chemistry. He planned on testifying that, according to his experience, the fire was caused by an internal defect in the battery. While the expert acknowledged that being exposed to the heat of the fire could have caused the battery cell to rupture, the expert concluded that if that were the case, he would have expected all three battery cells to have ruptured. However, since only one cell ruptured, he concluded that the most likely cause of the fire was an internal defect in the ruptured cell.
The second expert presented by the plaintiffs was a fire investigator. He planned on testifying that the fire started on the boy’s bed, where the laptop was found, that the laptop was the most likely cause of the fire, and that the fire was accidental.
The defendants objected to the testimony of both experts on the basis that they did not meet the threshold requirements to be admissible. The court began its analysis by noting that courts act as a gatekeeper when it comes to evidence parties intend to present to the jury. In this function, courts will only admit for consideration relevant expert testimony that is the product of a reliable methodology.
Here, the court concluded that the experts’ testimony failed to meet the reliability prong of the admissibility analysis. The court based its decision on literature cited by the battery safety expert, which he co-wrote. That literature was based on a series of tests performed on the same battery type at issue in the case, and the tests indicated that when the batteries were exposed to heat, some but not all of the batteries ruptured. This, the court held, was in contradiction to the expert’s testimony at trial, in which he stated that he would expect all three batteries to have ruptured had they been exposed to heat. Thus, the court determined that the methodology the expert used to arrive at his opinion was not reliably applied.
The court then excluded the testimony of the fire investigator based on the fact that he relied on the battery safety expert’s opinion when coming to his own conclusion that the laptop was the most likely cause of the fire. As a result of the court’s decision, the plaintiffs were unable to establish the causation element of a product liability claim, and their claim was dismissed.
Have You Been Injured by a Dangerous Product?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in Indiana due to a dangerous product, you should consult with a dedicated Indiana personal injury attorney at the law firm of Parr Richey Fransen Patterson Kruse. The attorneys at Parr Richey Frandsen Patterson Kruse have extensive experience handling a wide range of Indiana product liability cases, and they know what it takes to succeed on their clients’ behalf. Call 888-532-7766 to schedule a free consultation today.
Plaintiff’s Case Dismissed Based on Her Untrue Sworn Statements, Indiana Injury Lawyer Blog, January 3, 2018
Court Finds Slip-and-Fall Plaintiff Presented Sufficient Evidence of Negligence Based on Expert Witness Testimony, Indiana Injury Lawyer Blog, December 28, 2017