Expert Article Library

Expert Evidence Fails to Satisfy Daubert Reliability Factors

Case Name: Johnson v. Manitowoc Boom Trucks, Inc. (Click here for the full text of the case)

Court: United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit; on appeal from District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee at Cookeville

Date: April 30, 2007

Expert: Design Defect Expert. Gary Friend, Engineering Consultant

Issues: Did the magistrate abuse her discretion by excluding expert testimony because the expert’s opinion had not been tested and was prepared in the litigation context.

Summary of case: In this product liability case the plaintiff sued Manitowoc, manufacturer of the “boom truck crane”, after being severely injured by a falling Manitowoc crane. The plaintiff alleged that the crane had a design defect in that it failed to possess an interlocking device. Had the Manitowoc crane contained an interlocking device it would not have fallen over onto the plaintiff. The magistrate excluded Friend’s testimony and granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed.

Role of the expert: Friend was an engineering consultant who had testified in a range of design defect cases. Friend prepared a report stating that the Manitowoc crane was defectively designed because it did not possess an interlocking system. His testimony was largely based on a review of documents such as owner and operator manuals for a range of truck cranes. Particularly, Friend focused on manuals for the Asplundh truck, a truck that did contain an interlocking system. Friend presented a one-page schematic of how the interlocking system used in the Asplundh truck might be used in the Manitowoc truck crane. Friend did not present empirical evidence to support his theory that the Asplundh interlocking device could be integrated into the Manitowoc.

Challenges to the Expert's testimony: The magistrate judge excluded the expert witness testimony because it failed to meet the reliability factors established in Daubert. The magistrate excluded Friend’s testimony largely because Friend failed to perform any testing of his opinion/theory. The magistrate also focused on the expert opinion being prepared in the litigation context. The Court of Appeals affirmed the magistrate’s decision. The Court held that some form of expert testing is required in a case of this type. Whilst Friend was not required to build a prototype to support his opinion, he could have conducted a number of tests that would have shown the practicality of his design. His one page schematic was not enough. The Court further stated that where it appears that an expert is a “quintessential expert for hire,” it is within the discretion of a trial judge to apply the Daubert reliability factors “with greater rigor.”

Summary prepared by R. Zapparoni