Plaintiff Hussein Al Qari was employed as a Steward’s Assistant aboard Defendant American Steamship Company’s vessel, the M/V H. Lee White. Plaintiff alleges that on November 5, 2020, he was climbing a flight of stairs from one level of the vessel to another, while carrying a box containing six jars of coffee grounds. He had one hand on the handrail and the other hand on the box. The box started to slip, and Plaintiff let go of the handrail to try to catch the box, lost his balance, and fell. Plaintiff claims he was seriously injured as a result of falling down the stairs.
On March 24, 2021, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against Defendant based on his November 5, 2020, fall and injuries, asserting claims for (1) Jones Act Negligence, 46 U.S.C. § 30101, et seq. (2) Unseaworthiness under the general maritime law of the United States, and (3) Intentional/Negligent Failure to Provide Maintenance and Cure under general maritime law.
Facts of the case
In support of his claims, Plaintiff produced the expert report of Captain Daniel Franklin, a Licensed Master of Unlimited Tonnage on the Great Lakes and a Federal Seaway Pilot in District 2, and then supplemented with this expert — Dr. John Samuel Morse, Ph.D., P.E., a mechanical engineer with experience in teaching, research, and industrial applications, primarily in Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cases.
Morse opined that Plaintiff removed his left hand from the handrail because the cardboard tray of coffee cans was slipping from his right hand and subsequently fell on the ships [sic] ladder when he lost his balance. Morse alleged that American Steamship Company violated the standard of care by ignoring the potentially dangerous condition since this incident could have been avoided if Morse had been equipped with an alternative means of carrying the cardboard tray of coffee cans, such as a backpack or supplied with an alternative means of moving the items to the main deck, such as a lifting system including a bucket and rope or mailbag and rope.
Defendant demanded exclusion of the testimony of Plaintiff’s expert Dr. John Samuel Morse.
Discussion by the Court
Morse cited four OSHA regulations pertaining to “Walking-Working Surfaces” generally. More specifically, these regulations pertain to ladders, stairways , and fall protection such as each ships [sic] ladder being equipped with handrails on both sides which applies regardless of how narrow the ships [sic] ladder is, or if one side or both is enclosed and each ship stairs and alternating treat type stairs being equipped with handrails on both sides. Morse added that it was the employer’s duty to ensure that no employee carried any object or load that could cause the employee to lose balance and fall while climbing up or down the ladder and that this regulation should be followed for loads carried on stairways.
Defendant’s motion to exclude the testimony of Morse rested primarily on the fact that OSHA regulations did not apply to U.S. Coast Guard inspected vessels, like the M/V H. Lee White which even the Plaintiff did not dispute but contended nevertheless that most of Morse’s opinions did not reference OSHA at all and were based on his remarkable experience of investigating over 575 ladder and climbing equipment accidents.
Defendant argued that Morse’s opinions were based on irrelevant OSHA regulations which if admitted would cause a significant risk of unfair prejudice and mislead the jury.
The Court agreed with the Defendant and held that OSHA regulations referenced by Dr. Morse were irrelevant to the claims and defenses in this case and confirmed their inadmissibility as non-binding evidence of the standard of care.
The Court also noted that any expert testimony Dr. Morse could provide regarding the physical structure or condition of the stairway was not at issue considering Plaintiff himself conceded in this case that there was nothing wrong with the stairway at the time of his accident.
The Court declared the testimony of Plaintiff’s expert John Samuel Morse inadmissible since it was premised on irrelevant regulations. The outcome of the case is yet to be decided since the issues involved in this case still remain unresolved.
1. Relevancy of Regulations: Before admitting the testimony of an expert, it is imperative for the Court to assess if the regulations based on which the expert is testifying have any significant bearing on the issues involved in this case. In this case, Morse based his testimony on OSHA regulations which did not apply to U.S. Coast Guard inspected vessels and hence his testimony was found likely to confuse the jury.