Fall protection expert witness helps car hauler survive summary judgment
A fall protection expert witness recently came to the rescue of a car hauler suing a truck manufacturer for negligence and helped him survive summary judgment. Although the expert did not have any formal education on fall protection, the Missouri district court ruled that all challenges regarding the expert’s qualifications went to the weight rather than the admissibility of his testimony.
Facts of the case
Plaintiff Timmy Taylor, a Teamster car hauler for Jack Cooper Transport brought this state-law negligence and strict products liability action against truck manufacturer Cottrell, stemming from Plaintiff’s alleged fall from truck manufacturer’s rig. Defendant moved for summary judgment based on Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA) preemption. Plaintiff filed testimony from a self-proclaimed “fall protection expert witness” to support his claim and survive summary judgment.
The fall protection expert witness
Dr. Gerald Micklow was a professor at East Carolina University, holding a Ph.D in mechanical engineering and a M.S. in aerospace engineering. According to his resume, he specialized in thermodynamics, computational fluid dynamics, gas turbine engines, compressible gas dynamics, jet and rocket propulsion, combustion, hydraulic systems, turbomachinery, internal combustion engineers, external aerodynamics, dynamics, mechanics of materials, and non-destructive testing. He had worked for a variety of employers, many in the aerospace industry, including NASA and Tracor Aerospace. He had also consulted for a variety of law firms. He had extensive research experience, and published many papers on advanced engineering topics such as aerodymanics and propulsion. Dr. Micklow listed two publications on fall protection, namely “Engineering and Ergonomic Analysis Relating to Slips and Falls While Loading/Unloading Car Carriers”, and “Injuries Related to Slips and Falls on Automobile Transport Carriers” which he stated were reports he had completed for law firms in connection with his work as an expert witness. He even created a “concept” of a fall protection system in connection with expert witness work, which he then destroyed because he thought the car hauler cases were gone.
Argument of the parties
Defendant alleged that Dr. Micklow’s testimony should be barred because he was not qualified to render an opinion in the field of fall protection associated with such testimony. Plaintiffs responded that Dr. Micklow’s education and experience qualified him as an expert, and that any dispute regarding his qualifications “went to the weight of his testimony, not its admissibility.” Plaintiffs also claimed that Dr. Micklow was an expert in fall protection. The issue, thus, was whether Dr. Micklow was qualified as a fall-protection expert by “knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education.”
Opinion of the Court
The Court announced at the very beginning that it was clear from Dr. Micklow’s C.V. that he had no formal education or training in fall protection. Rather, it appeared that Dr. Micklow’s primary area of academic expertise and training was mechanical engineering, with a focus on areas such as thermodynamics, computational fluid dynamics, combustion, propulsion, aerodynamics, and gas turbine engines, etc. Of course, going by the precedents from courts in the Eighth Circuit, academic training was not necessary for expert qualification; a person may qualify as an expert where he possessed sufficient knowledge obtained from practical experience. While Dr. Micklow’s specific experience in slip and fall cases was limited, small and not extensive, it did exist. As Plaintiffs correctly pointed out, the issues raised by Defendant went to the weight to be given Dr. Micklow’s testimony, rather than its admissibility.
Accordingly, Defendant Cottrell, Inc.’s combined motion to bar testimony of Gerald Micklow under Daubert and Alternative Ground for Summary Judgment was denied.
**Written for the web by the EWG Editorial Team