Federal Appellate Court Reverses Lower Court’s Evidentiary Ruling, Allowing Plaintiff’s Expert Witness’ Testimony

Earlier this month, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decided a case that deals with an evidentiary issue common in many personal injury lawsuits:  the admissibility of expert testimony. In the case of Sorrels v. NCL (Bahamas), the plaintiff was a customer on one of NCL’s cruise ships. At some point during the cruise, the plaintiff slipped and fell on the deck of the ship and fractured her wrist. At the time, the deck was wet from a recent rainfall. She filed suit against the cruise line, alleging its negligence in maintaining the ship’s deck.

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The Issues at Trial

In this slip-and-fall case, one of the critical issues was what the ship deck’s coefficient of friction (COF) was. COF is a scientific term experts use to describe how much force is necessary to move one surface over another. In this case, the relevant surface was the ship’s deck; the higher the COF, the less slippery the surface will be.

The plaintiff called an expert at trial to testify to the ship deck’s COF. The expert tested the ship’s deck, although it was 520 days after the slip-and-fall accident. The expert also was going to testify to what he believed that the “normal” COF for a ship deck on a commercial cruise line should be. Specifically, the expert had four conclusions:

  • At the time the deck was tested, it did not meet the minimum standards for passenger walkways;
  • Based on other slip-and-fall incidents, NCL should have known that the low COF was a safety concern;
  • Due to the deck’s wide range of COF in various areas, it “trap[ped] individuals via a false sense of security”; and finally,
  • Even with signage indicating the slippery conditions, they would have been insufficient to warn passengers of the “hidden dangers.”

However, at trial, the judge kept out all testimony from the expert witness, claiming that his methods were unreliable, given that he tested the deck nearly a year and a half after the incident. The plaintiff appealed the court’s ruling.

On Appeal

The appellate court reversed the lower court’s decision in part, allowing some of the expert’s testimony to come in. The court determined that the expert’s testimony regarding the tests he performed a year and a half later should have been admissible at trial. The court considered the fact that the expert did not claim to know what the condition of the ship deck was on the day of the accident, but only when he tested it. This was not misleading and did offer some probative value.

The court did agree with the lower court, however, when it came to the testimony regarding the “false sense of security” statement. The court held that the expert did not test enough of the ship deck surface to make that determination, and keeping that testimony out of evidence was proper.

Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Slip-and-Fall Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been involved in a Maryland slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary damages to compensate you for your injuries. However, recovering after an accident is much more complex than merely filing suit. There are often months of investigation, research, expert selection and consultation, and trial preparation. To make sure that you are in good hands, contact an attorney at the dedicated Maryland personal injury law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC at 410-654-3600 today. Calling is free, and there is no obligation to continue forward with your case.

More Blog Posts:

Federal Appellate Court Discusses Presumption of Negligence in Rear-End Accident Cases, Maryland Accident Law Blog, July 22, 2015.

Maryland Woman’s Medical Malpractice Claims Dismissed After Missing Statute of Limitations, Maryland Accident Law Blog, June 8, 2015.

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