South Carolina Court Grants Motion to Exclude Materials Engineering Expert in Product Liability Case
Posted on January 12, 2023 by Ashish Arun
Olan Dubois was employed in the maintenance department of E.D.F. Renewable Energy, Inc. On June 28, 2017, he was instructed to investigate a reported fluid leak from a loader. While attempting to fix the problem, a sensor from the loader was expelled from its fitting towards his face and right eye due to the force of hydraulic pressure. As a result of the accident, Dubois sustained fractures to his right eye orbit, and his right eye ultimately had to be removed, among other injuries. Olan Dubois filed a claim against Flint Equipment Company, Deere Credit Services, Inc., John Deere Financial, Deere & Company, d/b/a John Deere Construction & Forestry (Defendants) for damages due to the accident.
Plaintiffs’ sole liability expert witness, Bryan Durig, a materials and metallurgical engineer, offered two liability opinions in this case to support his conclusion that the subject product was defective and unreasonably dangerous. First, Durig opined that the subject Loader suffered from a “manufacturing defect” based on the fact it developed a hydraulic fluid leak so early in its service life. Second, Durig asserted that the Loader lacked adequate warnings on the product itself, and offered an opinion that the Loader needed an additional warning sticker on the side of the Loader warning that the accumulator may be under pressure even when the machine is turned off. However, Durig could not offer an opinion as to what such a warning should say in order to be effective. He also could not opine that either of these defects were the proximate cause of Mr. Dubois’s injuries. Further, Durig agreed Mr. Dubois’s attempted repair efforts were unsafe, dangerous and contributed to his injuries.
Defendants challenged Durig’s warning opinions contending: (1) he was not qualified to render expert testimony regarding the adequacy of the Loader’s warnings; and (2) his expert warning opinion was not based on scientifically valid methodology or reasoning under the Daubert standard. Defendants contended Durig was not qualified to opine “regarding the inadequacy of the Loader’s warnings, and his opinion that the inadequate warnings were a proximate cause of Mr. Dubois'[s] injuries. To that end, Defendants argued Durig lacked the requisite knowledge, skill, expertise, training or education in the field of warnings and human factors. The Court agreed.
The Court held that Durig’s training and experience as a mechanical engineer and his general experience as an expert witness were insufficient to establish he was qualified to offer opinion testimony regarding the adequacy or the need for additional warning on the Loader given his own admissions denoting his lacking qualifications in this field.
Nevertheless, Plaintiffs asserted that Durig was not expected to testify as to the ‘adequacy’ of the warnings that accompanied the Loader, but rather the need for an additional warning on the Loader. However, the Court held, in order to offer an opinion that the Loader needed an additional warning placard, Plaintiffs must present evidence that the existing warnings which accompanied the Loader were inadequate. Plaintiffs did not present any such evidence. Thus, the Court held that the Plaintiffs failed to carry their burden to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that Mr. Durig was qualified to testify as an expert on a proposed warning opinion.
|Dubois v. Flint Equip. Co.
|2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 231307
|Judgment/ Order Date
|Nov 9, 2022
|United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, Charleston Division