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Daubert Issues Back Before Sixth Circuit

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One of the major areas in which the Sixth Circuit handed down important decisions in 2011 concerned the admissibility of expert testimony under Daubert.  The court continues to focus on this area, handing down another important Daubert decision recently in Newell Rubbermaid Corporation v. The Raymond Corporation.  In that case, the plaintiff sought to admit the expert testimony of a forensic engineer concerning forklifts.  Building on prior forklift design defect cases in the Sixth Circuit, the court affirmed the district court’s exclusion of the expert and the corresponding grant of summary judgment for lack of expert testimony.  The Sixth Circuit concluded that the engineer’s methodology was not sufficiently reliable after a comprehensive examination by the district court.  A number of red flags were raised by the expert’s methodology, including reliance on anecdotal evidence, improper extrapolation, failure to consider other possible causes, and a lack of testing.

Surveying Ohio products liability case law, the court noted that the case law “is less than clear about the evidence needed to support a consumer-expectations claim at the summary judgment stage.”  The court declined to resolve this issue because regardless of which standard applied, the mere fact of injury was insufficient to support a design defect claim.  The plaintiff also had to show that a proposed alternative design would be reasonable.  Overall, the Sixth Circuit faulted plaintiff’s summary judgment argument by failing to point to specific facts, in accordance with Rule 56 to avoid summary judgment: “A plaintiff cannot simply sit back and highlight deficiencies in the defendant’s argument without providing some affirmative support for its own position.”  This case is the latest example in the Sixth Circuit scrutinizing expert testimony under Daubert in order to ensure that only reliable testimony is considered at the summary judgment stage or trial.