Judge allows expert witness testimony to go forward in products liability case

By Jon Campisi | Apr 17, 2013

A federal judge in Philadelphia has denied two defense motions in a products liability

case, one to exclude the plaintiff’s expert witness testimony and another seeking summary judgment.

The case involves Montgomery County, Pa. residents Daniel Reardon and his wife, Anita Heriot Reardon, who are suing Illinois Tool Works Inc. over injuries allegedly sustained by the husband.

The lawsuit, which was initially filed at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas but later transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleges claims of design defect and warning defect relative to injuries Daniel Reardon says he sustained in mid-January 2010.

The complaint says that Reardon was working with a framing nailer manufactured by ITW when he was injured by a pneumatic injection of high-pressure gas into the skin under his right thumbnail.

The fuel cell on the device was defectively designed because it could accidentally release high-pressure gas when users attempt to attach the metering valve, the suit alleges.

Reardon contends he read the device’s proper instruction on attaching the metering valve at the time of the accident, and he asserts that there were no warnings to inform users that gas could be released at hazardously high pressures.

The plaintiffs intend to use engineer Gary Sheesley as an expert, with Sheesley expected to testify that an alternative design that is economically and technically feasible could have eliminated the possibility of such hazardous release, or that ITW could have sold fuel cells preassembled with the metering valve.

The defendant subsequently moved to have Sheesley’s testimony excluded as unreliable and, in conjunction, moved for summary judgment.

A hearing was held on the matter in early March, the court record shows.

In his memorandum and order, U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn wrote that he would not exclude the expert’s testimony because, “based on Sheesley’s deposition and reports, I am convinced that he has reached his conclusions through a reliable process.”

“While Sheesley cannot point to which specific exemplar fuel cells he has manipulated, this is not a sufficient reason to discount his explanation that he was able to achieve an accidental gas release with at least some of the cells,” Yohn wrote. “Furthermore, he has drawn on his experience and knowledge as an engineer, as well as other information such as OSHA regulations and the accidental gas release that he replicated, to opine that gas could be released from the fuel cell at sufficiently high pressure to cause an injection injury.”

Court precedence also makes clear that testing of alternative warnings is not necessary for Sheesley to testify on the warning defect claim, Yohn wrote, with an engineer allowed to opine on the necessity of a warning based on “specialized, rather than generalized, experience.”

“Thus, I find that the method Sheesley followed in formulating his opinions is reliable and his testimony will assist the jury in determining the material facts in dispute,” the judge wrote. “Defendant can, of course, challenge his expert testimony through cross-examination and by proffering its own expert to present contrary evidence.”

The plaintiffs are being represented by Philadelphia attorneys Thomas F. Reilly and Allan Scholler, of The Chartwell Law Offices.

Lawyer Meaghann C. Porth, of the Wayne, Pa. firm Campbell, Campbell, Edwards & Conroy, is representing Illinois Tool Works.

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