Subject: Illinois

Northern District of Illinois Excludes Engineering Expert’s Testimony and Grants Partial Summary Judgment, Fulfilling its Responsibility as Gatekeeper

For over two decades, dating back to Daubert and the ensuing amendments to Rule 702, federal district courts have been charged to act “as gatekeepers to exclude unreliable expert testimony.” Fed. R. Evid. 702 advisory committee’s note to 2000 amendments. However, some courts have not embraced that role, letting jurors weigh questions about an expert’s qualifications or methodology as though they go to credibility rather than admissibility. Indeed, the Advisory Committee on Evidence Rules proposed an amendment to Rule 702 to address the “pervasive problem” of courts holding that issues of admissibility are questions “of weight for the jury.” See, Sardis v. Overhead Door Corp., 10 F.4th 268, 282-84 (4th Cir. 2021). (quoting Advisory Comm. on Evidence Rules, Agenda for Committee Meeting (Apr. 30, 2021)).

A recent decision out of the Northern District of Illinois, however, provides an excellent example of a court discharging its duty to preclude inadmissible expert opinions. The Plaintiff in Pessman v. Trek Bicycle Corporation, 2021 WL 5769530 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 6, 2021) was injured in a bicycle accident. Plaintiff’s engineering expert opined that the cause of the accident was a crack in the carbon fiber frame of Plaintiff’s Trek bicycle attributable to a design defect. The engineer claimed that carbon fiber frames are prone to cracking and that the crack was mistaken for simple paint chipping by a dealer who had inspected the bicycle several days before the accident, allegedly due to Trek’s failure to train the dealer properly.

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Seventh Circuit Holds that State Court Limit on Medical Expert Testimony Does Not Apply to FTCA Claim in Federal Court

Although product liability actions are governed by state tort law, they frequently find their way into federal court on diversity jurisdiction. In such actions, federal law provides the procedural rules and state law provides the rule of decision. Although the distinction between procedure and substance is often clear, it can sometimes be nuanced and unintuitive; for example, statutes of limitations are typically viewed as procedural, whereas statutes of repose are viewed as substantive. In Love v. United States, — F.4th — (7th Cir. 2021), 2021 WL 5119342, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals provides another such illustration of this nuanced distinction and further guidance on the subject in the context of the admissibility of expert opinions.

The Plaintiff in Love brought suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), alleging that a nurse employed by the Veterans Administration negligently failed to order additional tests after receiving the results of a urinalysis. Plaintiff alleged that the lack of testing allowed an infection to go undiagnosed and untreated, leading to a heart attack and extended hospitalization.

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The Additional Cost of an Adverse Judgment: Illinois’ New Prejudgment Interest Act

Recent legislation will have a significant impact on the evaluation of personal injury and wrongful death cases across Illinois.  For many years, Illinois plaintiffs in personal injury and wrongful death actions have been entitled to statutory postjudgment interest, currently at a rate of 9% per year. (735 ILCS 5/2-1303(a)). Prejudgment interest, however, has not been available under the Illinois judgment interest statute. That is about to change. The Illinois legislature recently passed Senate Bill 72, the Illinois Prejudgment Interest Act, which goes into effect on July 1, 2021, and imposes prejudgment interest on defendants at a rate of 6% per year.

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Strike Two for Amazon in the California Court of Appeal

A California Court of Appeal has held that Amazon may be strictly liable for injuries to customers who bought products from third-party sellers offered on Amazon’s website.  (See discussion of Bolger decision here).

In Kisha Loomis v. Amazon.com LLC, plaintiff sought damages from Amazon for burns allegedly caused by a defective hoverboard she purchased through Amazon’s website.  Amazon won summary judgment from the trial court, which held that Amazon did not fall within the chain of distribution and could not be liable under the “marketing enterprise theory.”

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Illinois Supreme Court Holds Employee’s Office At Home Not Sufficient to Establish Venue

The Illinois Supreme Court recently held that the presence of an employee’s home office was not sufficient to establish venue in Cook County for a negligence action arising out of a vehicle accident in Ohio. Tabirta v. Cummings, et al., 2020 IL 124798 (Ill. Oct. 22, 2020). Reversing the trial and appellate courts, the Court held that having a sole employee with a home office in Cook County did not establish an “other office” of the corporate defendant for purposes of the venue statute, 735 ILCS 5/2-101(a), and that the employee’s activities and the company’s minimal sales in Cook County did not meet the “doing business” prong of the venue statute.

The underlying negligence action arose out of a collision in Delaware County, Ohio, in which the plaintiff suffered severe injuries after his truck was hit by a tractor-trailer owned by the driver’s employer, Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation (GML). The plaintiff, who was a Cook County resident, brought suit in Cook County against GML and the other driver, who was not a resident of Cook County. GML is a Missouri corporation with a principal place of business and registered agent in Randolph County, Illinois.

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A Warranty Claim by Any Other Name Remains a Warranty Claim – Illinois Federal Court Dismisses Claims Against Aloe Vera Retailer

An Illinois federal court recently reinforced the distinction between a properly plead consumer fraud claim and an express warranty claim merely masquerading as a consumer fraud claim, while granting a defendant’s motion to dismiss.

In Parrott v. Family Dollar, Inc.the plaintiff alleged breach of warranty and consumer fraud claims against Family Dollar, Inc. regarding its aloe vera product. The Hon. Jorge L. Alonso of the Northern District of Illinois unmasked plaintiff’s consumer fraud claim as nothing more than a breach of warranty claim by another name, and subsequently granted defendant’s motion to dismiss.

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