Articles Posted in Experts

The Minnesota Supreme Court has reversed a decision of the Court of Appeals in that state. The appeals court affirmed the decision of the district court, which granted judgment as a matter of law to Lycoming Engines. In this case, Mark Kedrowski claimed that a defective fuel pump was manufactured and distributed by Lycoming Engines, which caused the airplane he was piloting to lose power and crash.

Kedrowski was seriously injured. The high court held that the district court abused its discretion by excluding the opinion of Kedrowski’s sole expert witness who testified on causation.

At the jury trial, a verdict was signed by the jury in the amount of $27 million in favor of Kedrowski.  Thereafter, the district court granted Lycoming Engine’s motion for judgment in this matter concluding that the opinion of Kedrowski’s sole causation expert lacked foundational reliability and that, without this opinion, Kedrowski’s claims failed.

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The question in this case, which was posed to the Illinois Appellate Court, was: “Does the trial court have discretion to permit a Rule 215 medical examiner to testify when the attorney for the party examined has not been served with the examiner’s report within the time specified by Rule 215(c)?”

The answer the Illinois Appellate Court gave in conclusion was “No.”

The ruling came despite a violation of the portion of the Illinois Supreme Court Rule 215 that requires a physician who was hired by the defendant ‘s attorney to conduct a medical examination of the plaintiff to send a copy of his report to the plaintiff’s attorney within 21 days of the checkup – and despite the fact that the third sentence of Rule 215(c) prescribes exclusion as the automatic remedy for a violation of this deadline. In this case, a circuit court judge in Madison County, Ill., denied Linda Batson’s motion to bar Dr. Mitchell Rotman from testifying in her personal injury case against Schindler Elevator Corp. The judge certified the question of law for immediate appeal.

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Across the country there have been many lawsuits filed against the makers and distributors of talc. Most of these suits have been filed against Johnson & Johnson as the maker of the baby powder used by many. In some courts, there have been very large jury verdicts for individuals who have been able to prove that the use of the baby powder caused ovarian cancer.

In this New Jersey consolidated case, two plaintiffs alleged that the talc-based product manufactured by the defendant had caused each of them to develop ovarian cancer. The issue for the court to decide here was whether the plaintiffs had shown that their experts’ theories of causation were “sufficiently reliable as being based on a sound, adequately founded scientific methodology, to wit, that they [were] based upon methods which experts in their field would reasonably rely in forming their own . . . opinions about the cause(s) of each of plaintiffs’ ovarian cancers.”

The court was ruling on the defendants’ motion to bar testimony of each of the plaintiff’s several expert witnesses. Along with the motions to bar, the defendants also filed motions for summary judgment anticipating his successful motion to bar the experts’ testimony. The motions were received by the court at a plenary hearing conducted pursuant to the standards articulated in a New Jersey case. Continue reading

Raymond Berke fell in the vestibule of an apartment building where he and his wife were staying with friends. A doorman heard but did not see him fall. There were no eyewitnesses. He suffered spinal injuries that rendered him a quadriplegic. He has no memory of his fall.

Berke filed a lawsuit against the building owner and the management company claiming that the vestibule area, stairs and doorway, in particular, were improperly designed and maintained and were a direct and proximate cause of his injuries.  His wife brought a loss of consortium claims against both defendants.

The defendants moved for summary judgment. The trial judge entered judgment in their favor. The Berkes argued that they presented sufficient admissible evidence to support their prima facie case of premises liability that would preclude summary judgment. They also contended that the trial court erred in striking parts of their expert witness affidavits, submitted in support of their response to defendants’ summary judgment motion and that the court should have granted their motion to cite supplemental authority.

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Billy R. Richey filed a lawsuit against State Farm Automobile Insurance Co. to recover for his injuries under the uninsured motorist coverage of his State Farm Insurance auto policy. On the evening of April 5, 2008, Richey was driving his motorcycle on a rural highway in Dade County, Mo. Richey suffered extensive injuries as a result of this incident and sought uninsured motorist coverage. Insurance coverage was denied, which led to the lawsuit.

At trial, Richey testified that he was returning home on his motorcycle after visiting a relative. As he approached a bend in the highway, an unknown driver (referred to by the parties as the “phantom vehicle”) traveling in the opposite direction swerved into Richey’s lane. Richey stated that he could have either driven off the road or hit the oncoming car head-on.  Richey steered his motorcycle to the right to avoid the other car and upon leaving the road he crashed into a ditch and was seriously injured. The phantom driver left the scene.

A deputy sheriff found Richey lying unconscious partially on the roadway. Richey was charged with a Class A misdemeanor of careless and imprudent driving as a result of the accident.  The charge specifically stated that Richey drove off the roadway and struck a ditch and thereby endangered the property of another or the life and land of any person. He was also charged with having an improper license.

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On July 15, 2008, Friehiwet Tahir was standing on the Chicago Transit Authority’s Argyle L station platform.  As the train approached the station, Friehiwet extended her right arm into the train’s right-of-way. The train struck her elbow. She lost her balance and fell onto the track’s dock where she died.

On July 5, 2011, Meram Tahir, Friehiwet’s sister, filed a lawsuit against CTA alleging wrongful death. Tahir claimed the CTA had been negligent in choosing not to notice Friehiwet, in failing to stop the train, in failing to keep the train under control, in failing to warn Friehiwet by blowing the train horn and warning of the train’s approach. The lawsuit also claimed that the CTA chose not to apply the brakes and failed to take reasonable precautions to avoid the deadly incident

Tahir also alleged negligence in design and maintenance of the platform and public address system. In addition, Tahir charged that the CTA operated the train with “worn and defective equipment . . .at an excessive and dangerous speed.”

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The Illinois Appellate Court has affirmed a ruling by a Cook County Circuit Court judge arising from a class-action suit filed by Ronald Costello who represented the class. He claimed that he and others suffered flooding on their property during August 2001 storms.

The lawsuit arose out of the City of Chicago’s implemented Rainblocker System, a sewer inlet intended to prevent backup from sewers following a heavy rain. The city hired Harza Environmental to develop this project. The same program worked successfully in Evanston, Illinois. Four pilot studies were done in different Chicago neighborhoods by Harza with a variety of levels of flooding. The studies proved successful and the city went ahead with the Rainblocker System.

It was alleged that during August 2001 storms, streets in the city flooded above the curb level because of the incorrect assumptions made by Harza. The lawsuit complained that the city should have done more tests and therefore, was negligent. In December 2005, the lawsuit was certified as a class.

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A recent Illinois Appellate Court decision provided additional clarification regarding the admissibility of photographic evidence. At issue was whether or not a judge had correctly allowed photographs taken at the scene of an accident to be admitted into evidence during a Cook County personal injury trial. The appellate court ruled that judge had and upheld the jury verdict in Patricia Williamson v. Luis Morales, 2012 IL App. (1st) 110324-U.

Williamson involved a 2006 car accident in which the defendant Luis Morales rear-ended the plaintiff Patricia Williamson’s vehicle. And while Morales admitted to having caused the accident, there was some debate as to the extent of Williamson’s injuries. Williamson refused treatment by paramedics at the accident scene, but then did head to the Christ Medical Center Emergency Room just one hour later. And even though her x-rays did not show any fractures, she continued to experience pain and treatment with a chiropractor for four to five months following the accident.

When Williamson brought her personal injury claim against Morales he denied that the car accident was responsible for the extent of Williamson’s injuries and her lost time from work. And when Williamson’s attorney attempted to produce photographs from the accident scene as a way to demonstrate the severity and nature of the car accident, Morales’s attorney objected on the basis that they were not relevant and could not be introduced unless in conjunction with expert testimony. The court agreed and stipulated that the photographs could not be introduced unless the defendant first opened the door to their submission.

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While not every civil lawsuit requires a party to hire an expert, there are some instances where an expert’s opinion and testimony are vital to the case’s outcome. For example, if a plaintiff is making medical malpractice claims against a doctor or hospital, he or she will likely hire a medical expert to help support those claims. Likewise, in a product liability lawsuit, a party would generally need to hire some sort of expert to help prove that there was in fact a design or manufacturing defect. The vital nature of these experts’ testimony means that if for some reason those experts’ opinions are barred, the plaintiff will have an extremely difficult time proving the defendant’s negligence.

This is exactly what happened in the product liability lawsuit of Raymond Bielskis v. Louisville Ladder, Inc., No. 10-1194 (November 18, 2011). Bielskis filed a lawsuit against Louisville Ladder in which he claimed that its scaffolding design was defective and caused his work injury. In order to prove his claims, Bielskis’s attorneys had hired an engineering expert. After the trial court barred the engineering expert’s testimony, Bielskis filed an appeal in which he asked the court to reinstate his expert’s testimony.

Bielskis arose out of a fall Bielskis had while using a scaffold constructed by Louisville Ladder. Bielskis had originally purchased the scaffold in 1997 while working as an acoustical ceiling carpenter for R.G. Construction. During that time, Bielskis was responsible for providing the equipment and scaffolding for most of his jobs. However, in 2001, Bielskis began working for International Decorators, who generally supplied its workers with scaffolding equipment. As a result, Bielskis rarely used his Louisville Ladder scaffold after switching employers in 2001.

Then in 2005, Bielskis decided to use his Louisville Ladder scaffold on a job. Bielskis inspected the scaffold’s condition before using it; however, not noting any problems, Bielskis determined it was safe to use. But when he placed his weight onto one of the scaffold’s caster stems, the scaffold broke and collapsed. Bielskis fell and injured himself; that scaffolding injury is the subject of the current lawsuit.

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In law, if you don’t agree with a lower court’s ruling, you have the option of appealing your case to a higher court. However, just because you file an appeal does not mean you will be happy with the outcome. In the product liability lawsuit of David Show, et al. v. Ford Motor Co., Nos. 10-2428 and 10-2637, the trial court had entered a summary judgment that effectively dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim. The plaintiffs appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals, which in turn declined to review the product liability lawsuit.

The lawsuit sprung from an Illinois rollover accident in which the two plaintiffs, David Show and Maria Federici, were injured. At the time of the auto accident, the two plaintiffs were riding in a 1993 Ford Explorer, which rolled over after being struck by another vehicle. The plaintiffs both suffered personal injuries as a result of the rollover accident and subsequently brought an Illinois product liability lawsuit against Ford Motor Company for its supposed negligence in designing its Ford Explorer.

The basis of the plaintiffs’ claim was that Ford had chosen to defectively design and produce their Explorer, making it an unsafe vehicle for consumers. In order to show that the SUV was unsafe, the plaintiffs offered up the fact that it had rolled over in their accident and was therefore unsafe. They testified that as consumers they would have expected the car to not rollover in an accident.

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