Articles Posted in Experts

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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As lawyers, we often hear accounts of clients who sustained fairly severe injuries after being involved in a car accident, yet did not have any medical complaints immediately following the crash. This is the case for a pedestrian who suffered a brain injury after being hit by a SUV. Despite her lack of symptoms at the accident scene, a Cook County jury awarded the plaintiff $713,602.

At the time of the Illinois pedestrian-car accident, the plaintiff was walking across a Northbrook intersection when she was struck by a Lexus SUV. There were opposing accounts of what happened. While the defendant driver stated that she was only traveling at one to two miles-per-hour at the time of impact, the plaintiff alleged that the impact was more severe. Also, while the defendant claimed that she merely bumped into the plaintiff, the plaintiff claimed that the impact was so severe that it caused her head to bounce of the defendant’s hood as she was thrown a few feet away.

However, both parties agree that the plaintiff refused medical treatment at the accident scene and did not immediately go to a hospital. Instead, the plaintiff continued on her way, even going out to dinner that night. In fact, it was at dinner that she began to experience some abnormal neurological symptoms.

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A Cook County trucking accident recently resulted in a $675,000 verdict for the plaintiff, who suffered traumatic brain injuries as a result of the 2005 rear-end collision. The Illinois personal injury case was brought against both the defendant driver and his employer; Heather Davis v. Keith M. Longsine, Schneider National Carriers Inc., 07 L 3098.

The Illinois highway accident occurred in March 2005, during Illinois’s road construction season. The plaintiff, Heather Davis, had come to a complete stop due to the road construction on Illinois Interstate 94 near Thornton, Illinois. However, the truck driven by defendant, Keith Longsine, did not stop and ended up crashing into Davis’s vehicle. At the time of the accident, Longsine was driving a truck owned by his employer, Schneider National Carriers, Inc.

At the Illinois personal injury trial, the plaintiff hired a mechanical engineer to offer opinions as to how fast the defendant was driving at the time of the rear-end crash. The severity of the impact caused Davis’s car to be pushed five feet forward into the rear of a pickup truck stopped in front of her. In addition, Davis’s airbags deployed and her headrest broke off of her driver’s seat. The plaintiff’s engineering expert, Michael Rogers, used this information to opine that the defendant was driving in excess of 33 mph when the trucking accident occurred.

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In the Illinois auto accident lawsuit of Corinne Thompson v. Christie Gordon, et al., No. 110066 (IL Sup. Ct.), the Illinois Supreme Court held that an engineer does not have to be professionally licensed in Illinois in order to qualify as an “expert” witness in an Illinois civil lawsuit. The Supreme Court’s decision affirmed the decision made by the appellate court; however, it reversed the circuit court’s ruling that the civil engineer hired by the plaintiff needed to be licensed in the state of Illinois in order to testify as an expert witness in the pending civil suit.

In Illinois, qualifications for various types of trial witnesses are established under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 213. A civil engineer, such as the one in Thompson, who is hired to testify as to the standard of care within his or her professional field, would be handled under Rule 213(f)(3). This section deals with “controlled expert witnesses,” i.e., the party’s retained expert, and requires the party to provide the expert’s qualifications to provide opinions on the specialized subject matter.

In Thompson, it was these qualifications that were up for debate. While the plaintiff held that its civil engineer was qualified to testify based on his experience and education, the defendants held that without being professionally licensed in Illinois he could not provide opinions as to the standard of care required of the defendants’ engineers and contractors. The defendants brought a motion to strike the civil engineer’s testimony as to the design defects of a highway intersection, which was granted by the circuit court. Plaintiffs appealed this decision; without the civil engineer’s expert testimony it would be almost impossible for the plaintiff to prove her claims against the defendants.

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