The Court Discusses the Standards for Carolina Personal Injury Expert Testimony in Newell Rubbermaid v. Raymond Corp.

When you are injured because of the fault of another person, proving this fault can seem intimidating. There are many rules governing the testimony of witnesses, how the testimony can be elicited, and the required thresh-holds of evidence.
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Our Carolina injury attorneys have the experience to help you prove the elements of your case. Getting the right witnesses and testimony is critical to getting the award you deserve in your North and South Carolina personal injury case.

Newell Rubbermaid v. Raymond Corp. is a very multifaceted case. Although it is not a straight personal injury case, it is presented because it explains the importance of expert witnesses’ testimony in injury cases. Hashman (Victim) worked for Newell Rubbermaid, Inc. (Newell or Employer). As part of her job, she was required to drive a forklift that was manufactured by Raymond (Manufacturer). This forklift was open in that there was no guard door on the rear of the machine to protect operators. The manufacturer produced guard doors for separate purchase, but the employer never purchased one because there was no industry requirement for one. While operating the forklift, victim lost her balance causing her to sustain serious injuries to her foot resulting in amputation.

The employer ultimately sued the forklift manufacturer claiming that there was a defect in the design of the machine. In order to support its claims, Newell provided the testimony of a forensic engineer named Railsback (Expert). The question for the court was whether the expert met the requirements to be an expert witness, and whether his contentions had sufficient support.

In order for an expert to be used in a case, the expert must have sufficient experience with the facts of the case at hand. For instance, the court found that because the expert had never driven the manufacturers forklift, he did not have sufficient training or experience with forklifts to qualify him as an expert witness.

Additionally, the court looks to an experts ability to test and provide evidence regarding the facts at issue. For example, in a car accident case a medical expert can testify that the probability that the victim obtained their injury from another source is low. They can make this contention by providing sufficient medical test reports, accepted medical journals and the victim’s medical history. This is how the inference in the expert’s testimony can be tested.

Because Railsback was not able to provide the court with verifiable information for which he drew his conclusions, he was not classified as an expert for the case. Therefore, all of the testimony he provided to the court in this case was considered irrelevant and excluded from the court proceedings.

Where a party does not provide the sufficient support of their contentions, a court is likely to decide in favor of the other party in what is referred to as summary judgment. Summary judgment is possible in all types of cases and it is used where there is no genuine dispute as to the material facts of the case. In making this determination, the court must draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposed to the summary judgment.

The issue in this case became, “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury.” See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251(1986). This court found that because the expert testimony was considered irrelevant, the evidence of the case was considered to be one-sided in favor of the manufacturer. Because the employer did not provide evidence to create a question for a jury, the manufacturer had to prevail in the case as a matter of law.

The court further explains that it would be an abuse of court discretion to use a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence as the basis of their decision. Therefore, in order to rely on the testimony of an expert the expert must be found to have specialized knowledge that will assist the court in understanding the facts at issue. Although the court explains that there is no test or checklist for expert qualifications but there is significant case law which provides precedent that the court must follow.

Thus in this case, because the expert had not tested his potential design alternatives, he was not classified as an expert; his testimony was stricken from the record, and the party who offered him as a witness lost the case.

If you have been injured contact the Carolina injury attorneys at Lee Law Offices to schedule a free appointment today. Call 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Newell Rubbermaid, Inc. v. Raymond Corp., No. 10-3912 (6th Cir. Apr. 3, 2012).

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