32-2-3104 Ixcopal v. Crown Equip. Corp., N.J. Super. App. Div. (per curiam) (15 pp.)
Submitted by New Jersey Civil Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
New Jersey’s Appellate Division recently dismissed a product’s liability case because the plaintiff’s expert did not base his opinion on adequate evidence. As a result, the plaintiff’s claim was dismissed.
In this case a forklift operator was severely injured when he collided with another forklift. The plaintiff operator sued the defendant manufacturer of the forklift, alleging he was injured because of the forklift’s defective design and inadequate safety warnings. The plaintiff was an experienced forklift operator and properly trained. The only issue in this case came down to the plaintiff’s sole product’s liability expert and his opinion.
The plaintiff’s expert was a licensed engineer and worked with a wide variety of machine designs. He estimated he had examined forklift designs about a dozen times. The expert concluded the forklift’s design was defective and provided his own proposed modifications which would make the forklift safer. He also concluded the forklift’s safety warnings were ineffective, confusing and contradictory.
The defendant’s attorney took the expert’s deposition, and it revealed gaps in the empirical basis for the expert’s conclusions. For instance, he admitted the design did not violate industry or government standards. He also acknowledged his recommended alternative designs had never been used on forklifts such as the one in this case. The expert performed no testing to compare the relative safety risk or impact of the proposed design changes.
The trial court barred the expert’s testimony because his opinion lacked an adequate factual basis, he lacked expertise in the design for this particular forklift at issue, and there was insufficient evidentiary basis for his conclusions regarding its alleged design defects and inadequate safety warnings.
An expert’s opinion not supported by factual evidence or other data must be excluded from the record. An expert must “give the why and wherefore that supports the opinion, rather than a mere conclusion.” In this case, the expert’s opinion lacked any support from the factual record, or from the industry or government standards. As a result, the plaintiff’s claim was dismissed because there was no expert basis for the cause of his injuries as a result of a defective forklift.
In any area of the law, as a plaintiff, make sure your attorney understands the importance of an expert and what the law requires an expert to produce in their opinions!