Dear expert witnesses: Please perform testing prior to drafting your report. Thanks. Sincerely, The Plaintiffs.

To be a good expert witness, a person should be extremely knowledgeable about the subject upon which he or she is opining.  The expert should preferably have a nice balance of practical and academic experience in his or her field, be good looking, well spoken, and able to articulate complex theories into easy to understand, layman’s terms. Oh, and one more thing.  The expert should probably wait until after he or she conducts testing on the product at issue in a case to draft his or her expert report.

In Cannioto v. Louisville Ladder, No. 8:09-CV-1892-T-30TBM, 2011 WL 2014260 (M.D. Fla. May 20, 2011), the plaintiff Robert Cannioto was allegedly injured when the 24-foot ladder he was standing on performing roofing work failed, causing him to plummet 16 to 18 feet to the ground.  The ladder was manufactured by LL. Cannioto and Home Depot, and Mr. Cannioto and his wife Bonnie Cannioto sued these two companies on theories of (1) strict liability against Louisville Ladder; (2) negligence of Louisville Ladder; (3) strict liability against Home Depot; (4) negligence of Home Depot; and (5) loss of consortium against Louisville Ladder.  The defendants filed a motion to exclude the testimony of the plaintiffs’ expert, Dr. Charles Benedict, and for summary judgment.

The plaintiffs hired Dr. Bendedict to render an opinion for them about the design and condition of the ladder at issue in the case.  Obviously, the plaintiffs wanted him to say there was something wrong with the ladder.  So, he did, writing a report in which he opined that the ladder was defectively designed.

Unfortunately, Dr. Benedict couldn’t quite get his tests, conducted after he wrote the report, to match his “findings” that the ladder was defectively designed:

In an attempt to prove his theory that the ladder failed as a result of the effect of torsional forces on a defectively designed foot, Benedict had one of his engineers set up a 24–foot extension ladder . . . in a manner similar to the one used by Plaintiff. He then had the engineer stand on the tenth rung of the fly or extended section of the ladder and violently jerk the left rail for almost 10 minutes in an effort to get the ladder to fail. The engineer also set the ladder on uneven ground and placed large weights near one of the feet in an effort to get the rail to fracture. Benedict’s assistants were unable to get the ladder rail to bend or break during the tests.

Don’t you hate when that happens?  So, the expert changed his theory from design defect to manufacturing defect.  In the middle of his deposition.  Without conducting any testing at all on the theory.

During his deposition, Benedict offered a new theory, one about a manufacturing defect rather than a design defect, as to why the subject ladder failed. He testified that the rungs were not properly or adequately attached to the rail and that the rung pulled out. This theory was not in Benedict’s expert report and Benedict admitted that he had not performed any testing to support this theory.
Not surprisingly, defense counsel argued at the hearing that Dr. Benedict should be excluded from testifying about the manufacturing defect because that particular theory had not been included in his expert report as required by Rule 26(a)(2)(B), FRCP.  Once the expert was excluded by the court, the plaintiffs could not support their theory of the case, and the defendants were granted summary judgment.

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