Human Factors Experts Not Qualified To Opine On Design Defects, District Court for Northern Georgia Says


Human Factors Expert

Court: United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Gainesville Division
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Vazquez v. Raymond Corp.
Citation: 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5355

In this product liability action, the plaintiff sought to hold defendants, Raymond Corporation and Carolina Handling, responsible for injuries he sustained in a forklift accident in Georgia.

At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was using the 4250 forklift to pick up a full pallet of tires. He was traveling tractor first (or “forks trailing”) when he turned to speak with another employee while the forklift was still moving. When he did so, he lost control of the forklift and crashed into a metal column. The plaintiff’s left foot was crushed because it was outside of the operator compartment at the time of the collision.

The plaintiff retained an expert whose testimony the defendants promptly moved to exclude. The defendants contended that the expert should not be allowed to testify because he lacked the necessary qualifications and because his opinions were unreliable.

The Expert Witness

The plaintiff’s expert had a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in industrial engineering and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. He taught courses dealing with human factors, engineering design and analysis, and human interaction with machinery at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The expert had served as an expert witness in numerous cases and offered opinions concerning human reaction time and the viability of warnings.

Held

The defendants’ motion to exclude the testimony of the expert was granted in part and denied in part.

The court held that the expert was qualified to testify as a human factors and warnings expert. However, it found that the expert was not qualified to offer opinions regarding design defects because he had no training, education, or experience designing forklifts or similar products. He was not and had never been a member of any committee that authors safety standards for stand-up forklifts and he had never  been employed by or consulted by forklift manufacturer. He had done no independent work, tests, surveys, or photography, to support his opinion.

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