Federal Appellate Court Rejects Expert Report in Texas Product Defect Case

- Charles Argento

Expert testimony is vital to many product liability cases.  Experts are often necessary to prove to a judge or jury that a product was defective as designed or manufactured, or that a product’s defect actually led to the accident and injury that befell the plaintiff.  A valid and compelling expert opinion is often the difference between winning and losing a personal injury case. For that reason, courts hold expert reports to a high standard. A federal appeals court in Texas recently threw out an expert’s report in a case involving an allegedly defective car, dooming the plaintiff’s case.  Read on for details about the case, and contact a seasoned Houston, Texas product defect lawyer if you have been hurt by a defective product in the Houston area.

Driver killed in car crash due to alleged transmission combustion

The case of Smith v. Chrysler concerned a man killed in a car crash while driving his 2013 Jeep Wrangler.  Just days after the accident, Chrysler sent out a transmission notice explaining that the transmission oil cooler (TOC) of some 2012 and 2013 Jeep Wranglers might leak, which could cause a fire in the vehicle’s underbody.  There was charred grass under the vehicle after Smith’s accident, indicating the presence of a fire.

After Smith’s death, his family sued Chrysler in federal court for claims under Texas’s product defect laws, arguing the TOC defect led to the accident.  They claimed the defect caused the car to catch fire, filling the passenger compartment with carbon monoxide, whereby Smith lost consciousness and crashed as a result.  After evidence was gathered in the case, Chrysler filed a motion for summary judgment to have the case thrown out as a matter of law, and the court granted their motion.  The Smith family appealed.

On appeal, the 5th Circuit focused in particular on the parties’ respective expert reports.  The Smith family submitted a report from a fire cause expert who opined that he could not determine whether the fire was caused by the specific TOC recall defect.  The plaintiffs then requested and received more evidence from Chrysler, which ultimately concerned causes of fires other than the TOC defect. The plaintiffs then submitted a supplemental report from the same expert in which he claimed he could now conclude that the recall defect likely caused the fire.

The court determined that the expert’s second report was late and unreliable, without actual analysis of the new information provided by Chrysler.  Instead, the new report merely added a declaration that he had reviewed the new data but in reality relied on the same data that the expert already had before issuing the first report.  The expert simply generated a new conclusion based on the same data that was more favorable to the plaintiffs.

Because the new data concerned other defects besides the one alleged to have caused the fire in this case, the revised report could at best have ruled out these other causes of the fire but could not have actually helped the expert determine that this TOC recall defect was the cause in this case.  The appellate court threw out the opinion and upheld the trial court’s decision to rule in favor of Chrysler.

Speak with an Experienced Houston Defective Product Attorney

If you or a loved one has been injured by a defective product in the Houston area, please contact Houston, Texas personal injury attorney Charles J. Argento. During a free initial consultation, we will evaluate your potential product defect claim, as well as your options for obtaining fair compensation for your injuries and damages. As your Houston product defect lawyer, Mr. Argento accepts no legal fees until we recover on your behalf.