Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case illustrating the importance of expert selection in Washington, D.C. product liability cases. The case required the court to determine if the testimony of the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses was based on sufficiently reliable methodology. Ultimately, the court concluded that the testimony of both witnesses was properly excluded by the trial court.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiffs were the parents of a college student who died in a fire that started in the boy’s room. Investigators found the boy’s laptop among the debris. The plaintiffs presented two expert witnesses to testify that, in their opinion, the fire was started when the battery in the laptop malfunctioned.
The first expert had a PhD in inorganic chemistry and was an expert in battery safety. He testified that upon inspecting the batteries in the laptop, one of the three cells had ruptured. He further explained that a battery cell can only rupture in certain circumstances, including electrically abusive condition,s mechanically abusive conditions, high temperatures (such as a fire), or an internal problem with the battery.
The expert testified that there was no indication of electrical or mechanical abuse to the battery, and the problem would have been either high temperature exposure or an internal defect. However, since only one of the three cells exhibited an abnormal reaction, yet all three batteries were exposed to the fire, it was not likely that the fire caused the battery to rupture. Thus, the expert concluded that the battery contained a defect.
The second expert, a fire investigator, testified that the fire likely started on the bed, that the most probable course of the fire was the laptop battery, and that the fire was accidental.
The laptop and battery manufacturers filed a motion to exclude the witnesses’ testimony based on the fact that it was based on unreliable methodology. This required the court to conduct a lengthy and detailed explanation of the admissibility of expert witness testimony. The court began by discussing the requirement that the court acts as the gatekeeper, determining which evidence the jury can hear. In that role, the court must not look at the conclusions drawn by the expert but must evaluate the methodology used by the expert to make sure that it is reliable.
The court first considered the battery expert’s testimony, in which he cited literature that he co-wrote. However, that literature indicated that batteries do not always respond to heat in the same way, and sometimes, but not always, a battery that was exposed to heat can rupture. The court noted that this was in conflict with the expert’s testimony that all three batteries would have been expected to be ruptured if exposure to the fire was the cause. This, the court held, rendered the expert’s opinion unreliable.
Regarding the fire investigator’s testimony, the court agreed with the defendant that it too was inadmissible. In his testimony, the fire investigator admitted to not being an expert in batteries and to relying on his discussion with the first expert in coming to his conclusion. The court held that the plaintiff cannot get in testimony through the fire investigator that they could not get in through the battery expert, and it precluded this expert’s testimony as well.
Have You Been Injured Due to a Dangerous Product?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured due to the use or malfunction of a dangerous product, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Washington, D.C. product liability lawsuit. The dedicated Washington, D.C. personal injury lawyers at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers have extensive experience assisting victims and their families with pursuing the compensation they deserve from those responsible for their injuries. Call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation with an attorney to discuss your case today.
More Blog Posts:
Court Permits Slip-and-Fall Plaintiff’s Case to Proceed Toward Trial, Based on Improperly Maintained Artificial Condition, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, December 18, 2017
Court Determines “Passive Retailer” May Still Be on the Hook for Dangerous Product, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, January 3, 2018