Category: Evidence

Pathologist Stopped Short of Offering Could-Have, Should-Have Opinions


In personal injury and wrongful death cases, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving medical causation, which almost universally requires testimony from a competent expert.  Some plaintiffs offer testimony from forensic pathologists—also known as medical examiners, or physicians specializing in postmortem cause-of-death determinations—to prove causation.  These forensic pathologists (or the parties proffering their testimony) may push evidentiary boundaries with respect to opinions corollary to their cause of death determinations. While some courts have allowed juries to hear these questionable corollary opinions, relying on cross examination to level the playing field, others have excluded such testimony on the basis of insufficient qualifications or lack of reliable methodology.  Recently, the Southern District of Georgia excluded a forensic pathologist’s opinions on both grounds in a wrongful death action. Although not a product liability case, the court’s well-reasoned holding is sure to affect product cases going forward.

In Griffin v. Coffee County et al., 2022 WL 2045650 (S.D. Ga. June 7, 2022), a man in custody at a county jail in Georgia died from a methamphetamine overdose. His estate brought claims for deprivation of rights and medical malpractice against the jail, the hospital, and various individuals associated with those entities. In support of its claims, the estate proffered testimony from a forensic pathologist who offered opinions about medical treatment.

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Expert’s Failure to Identify Product Defect in Pressure Cooker or Inadequacy in Warnings Leads to Summary Judgment


It is axiomatic that a plaintiff must offer evidentiary support for each element of her claim in order to survive summary judgment. And a ubiquitous feature of product liability actions is the use of expert witnesses by both sides. These principles are, of course, related – the plaintiff usually must offer expert testimony in order to make a prima facie case, and the defense then attacks that prima facie case through expert testimony. But sometimes a plaintiff loses sight of the connection and, despite retaining an expert, fails to elicit the opinions she needs to make her case. As a recent decision from the Western District of Wisconsin illustrates, it pays for a defendant to carefully evaluate whether a plaintiff has checked all of the necessary boxes.

In Moore v. National Presto Industries, Inc., 2022 WL 1555875 (W.D. Wis. May 17, 2022), Plaintiff alleged that she was injured when she opened her pressure cooker while it was still pressurized, ejecting its contents onto her arm, causing burns. Plaintiff sued the cooker’s manufacturer, asserting strict liability claims for design defect and failure to warn as well as a claim for negligence. Defendant moved for summary judgment on each of these claims.

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It’s not what happened, but why: First Circuit rejects conclusory, unsupported expert opinions


It is not uncommon for an opposing expert to opine that the existence of injury alone implies negligence, nor is it unusual to find that such opinions are supported only by general reliance on “literature” with no discernible connection to the issue at hand. Certainly, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2)(B) requires an expert’s report to contain “a complete statement of all opinions the witness will express and the basis and reasons for them.” And, Federal Rule of Evidence 702 requires that an expert not only base an opinion on sufficient facts or data but also reliably apply his or her methodology to those facts or data. Yet all too often, courts decline to hold an expert to task and instead find that these deficiencies go to the weight, but not the admissibility, of an expert’s opinion. But, as recently observed by the First Circuit, an expert must do more than merely cite the existence of an injury if a res ipsa loquitur argument is not available. And regardless, an expert’s failure to link the literature cited to the opinions offered is not a matter of insufficiency, but rather of unreliability.

In López-Ramírez v. Toledo-González, — F.4th —, 2022 WL 1261299 (1st Cir. 2022), Plaintiff experienced hearing loss, facial paralysis and loss of balance following a neurosurgical procedure performed by the defendant neurosurgeon. Plaintiff sued the physician and the hospital, alleging that the defendant neurosurgeon’s failure to properly evaluate, treat and monitor her condition during the surgery amounted to medical malpractice. In support of that claim, Plaintiff disclosed a neurology expert who opined that the defendant neurosurgeon deviated from the standard of care and included with his report articles from the medical literature that he felt “may be helpful” in understanding his opinions.

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Third Circuit Confirms That Alleged Defect in “Simple” Component of More Complex System Must Be Proven by Expert Testimony When Facts Surrounding Defect Claim Are Beyond Common Knowledge


A plaintiff who alleges that a product is defective usually has to offer expert testimony in support of that allegation.  This should come as no surprise for complex products – if it took a team of scientists and engineers to bring the product to market, then a lay jury should not be asked to evaluate an alleged defect in that product without the aid of expert testimony.  But what if a plaintiff alleges a defect in the design of a relatively simple, more familiar component of a complex product?  The Third Circuit recently addressed that question in an opinion that, although nonprecedential and in some respects peculiar to New Jersey law, illustrates how a court should approach the issue.

In Kuhar v. Petzl Co., 2022 WL 1101580 (3d Cir. Apr. 13, 2022), Plaintiff fell and injured himself while using a safety harness that he had purchased as part of a kit seven years earlier.  He alleged that the fall occurred because a bolt attached to the carabiner of the safety harness had snapped due to a design and/or “indeterminate” or manufacturing defect.  In support of his claims, Plaintiff proffered a metallurgical and materials sciences expert who identified two alleged design defects – a “sharp profile change” and “sharp threads on the bolt” – and machining grooves that the expert deemed a manufacturing defect, some combination of which he claimed had caused the accident.  But some of the expert’s defect and causation opinions were “net opinions” – New Jersey parlance for “ipse dixit” opinions – and were excluded for lack of supporting data.  Other opinions were excluded because the expert failed to define his terms or explain his reasoning.  The Third Circuit agreed with the district court that the expert’s opinions lacked both reliability and fit, and affirmed its exclusion of all of the expert’s opinions.

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Ninth Circuit Affirms Exclusion of Expert and Resulting Summary Judgment in In re: Incretin-Based Therapies MDL


Early last year, the In re: Incretin-Based Therapies MDL court held that the plaintiffs’ warnings claims were preempted, excluded plaintiffs’ general causation experts, and granted summary judgment to all defendants on dual preemption and causation grounds. In re: Incretin-Based Therapies Prods. Liab. Litig., 524 F. Supp. 3d 1007 (S.D. Cal. 2021). For context, that was the second time the defendants won summary judgment; the Ninth Circuit had reversed an earlier preemption victory in an opinion that predated the Supreme Court’s decision in Albrecht. In re Incretin-Based Therapies Prods. Liab. Litig., 721 F. App’x. 580 (9th Cir. 2017). Now, however, the Ninth Circuit has affirmed summary judgment as to one defendant (Novo Nordisk A/S (“Novo”)). In re: Incretin-Based Therapies Prod. Liab. Litig., 2022 WL 898595 (9th Cir. Mar. 28, 2022).

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Eastern District of Pennsylvania Issues Lone Pine Order in Zostavax MDL


Multidistrict litigation is often criticized for enabling plaintiffs to file meritless cases and then hide in large inventories, hoping to be swept up in a settlement (whether global or otherwise) before the case is meaningfully probed through discovery.  Traditional tools such as plaintiff profile sheets and early screening orders represent a partial solution, as they can help identify cases with more obvious flaws such as those that are clearly time-barred or lack proof of product use.  But some issues, such as critical gaps in causation, are beyond the reach of the limited case-specific discovery permitted for most cases in an MDL.  Enter the Lone Pine order, a case management order by which a court requires all plaintiffs to produce evidence establishing specific elements of their claim.

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