Anderson worked as a standup forklift operator at a FedEx warehouse. While pulling a load, she hit a bump and fell out of the forklift onto the floor. The forklift continued moving and ran over her leg, resulting in amputation. In the lawsuit that followed, the parties filed dueling motions over the proffered testimony of Dr. John Meyer, one of Anderson’s experts. Meyer’s primary suggestion was that Raymond equip each of its forklifts with a door to enclose the operating compartment. Like other standup forklift manufacturers, Raymond offers doors as an option that some customers choose, but Raymond does not fit doors to its forklifts as standard. Raymond says it resists fitting doors as standard because a door could impede the operator’s ability to make a quick exit in the event the forklift runs off a loading dock or begins to tip over. The district court concluded that Meyer’s opinion about the absence of a door was inadmissible under Daubert. (The district court admitted Meyer’s opinions on other potential design improvements, which were not at issue on appeal.) The jury found that the forklift was not defectively designed and returned a verdict in Raymond’s favor. Anderson unsuccessfully moved for a new trial, arguing then and on appeal that the erroneous exclusion of Meyer’s opinion was substantially prejudicial to her case. The U.S. Seventh Circuit agreed and remanded for a new trial on that basis.
“First, considering his full range of practical experience as well as academic or technical training in a given area, we agree with the district court that Meyer is qualified to offer his opinion. Meyer has extensive training – he received his doctorate in mechanical engineering from MIT – and experience in failure analysis. He has spent most of his professional career investigating machine accidents and performing accident reconstructions. He even has a license to operate a stand-up forklift like that at issue here, albeit not this specific model. Raymond argues that Meyer is unqualified to offer his opinion because he has limited experience with forklifts. That focus is misplaced. An expert’s specialization or lack thereof typically goes to the weight to be placed on his opinion, not its admissibility. Meyer’s extensive familiarity with accident reconstruction and training as a professional engineer qualify him to render opinions on what could have been done to prevent Anderson’s injuries….
“Meyer’s insights stem from his training and experience investigating industrial accidents. Meyer visited the FedEx warehouse with Anderson to reconstruct (to the best of Anderson’s recollection) what happened. He reviewed troves of data generated from forklift accidents. He noted that Raymond implemented structural measures to guard against tip-over events, where a forklift goes forks-first over a ledge or is improperly balanced while carrying a load. (Recall, the need for a quick escape in such situations was Raymond’s justification for not fitting a door as standard.) Meyer looked to operators who elected to install the optional door Raymond offers and found no increase in tip-over injuries. From all of this, Meyer concluded that Raymond’s reliance on training and warnings, as opposed to structural changes like those implemented to prevent tip-overs, was insufficient to mitigate the risk of an accident like Anderson’s. Given that Raymond designed and offered a door as an option, Meyer concluded that installing it as standard was feasible and would reduce the frequency of crush accidents like Anderson’s.
“Raymond, however, insists that Meyer’s methodology is flawed. Raymond argues that Meyer’s failure to conduct his own tests renders his door opinion categorically inadmissible. Not so. While in Dhillon we held that a district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding an expert who failed to design or test his proposed forklift door, we expressly rejected the notion that hands-on testing is an absolute prerequisite to the admission of expert testimony…. An expert hoping to testify about benzene’s effects on children need not expose children to benzene. That Raymond markets Meyer’s proposed alternative underscores our conclusion: when data are available from another source, there’s no need to duplicate that information by testing. Raymond’s customers who have elected to fit their forklifts with Raymond’s optional door have been testing Meyer’s alternative for him. Raymond can critique the use of those customers as comparators, but such arguments go to the weight, not the admissibility, of Meyer’s testimony.
“Raymond next argues that Meyer’s methodology is unacceptable because the conclusions that flow from it have been rejected elsewhere. By now it should be clear that this is an insufficient basis for excluding an expert’s opinion — our inquiry focuses on the expert’s methodology, not whether we agree with his conclusions. In a similar vein, Raymond points to its decades of experience designing forklifts and to its long history of defeating claims like Anderson’s in courts across the country as reasons to exclude Meyer’s opinion. Neither is relevant to the Rule 702 inquiry, which is concerned only with Meyer’s ability to aid the jury in this case. The same can be said of Raymond’s appeal to the authority of the American National Standards Institute. While ANSI may suggest a preference for open operating compartments, we are aware of no case stating that an expert who disagrees with ANSI’s suggestion is categorically barred from testifying. Just the opposite: ANSI’s recommendation, standing alone, is not a dispositive consideration.”
Anderson v. Raymond Corp., 61 F.4th 505 (7th Cir. 2023).