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Chong v. STL International, Inc. et al.

Area of Law:

Product liability, strict liability, design defect. Plaintiff alleged she fell from an inversion table manufactured by Defendant STL and sold by another Defendant, Costco.

Grounds:

Plaintiff moved to strike expert reports of Defendant’s medical expert, Dr. Jeffrey Johnson, on the grounds that his opinions: 1) were not relevant or helpful to a jury; 2) were not based on any reliable foundation and were speculative; and 3) appealed for jury nullification.

Outcome:

Granted. The court excluded Dr. Johnson's opinions as irrelevant, not helpful to the jury, speculative, and unreliable.

Analysis:

As to the relevance ground, the court concluded that Dr. Johnson’s opinions on Plaintiff’s pre-existing conditions are inadmissible. Dr. Johnson opined that without Plaintiff’s previously unknown OPLL (ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament) condition, Plaintiff would have suffered, at most, a minor injury. Slip op. at 16. The court held that this opinion is legally irrelevant, because Defendants may not escape liability or seek reduced damages by arguing that Plaintiff would not have suffered catastrophic injuries but for her unknown preexisting condition or that she may have become paralyzed by her condition anyway. Id.

As to the reliability ground, the court concluded that Dr. Johnson’s opinions that (1) Plaintiff may have become paralyzed later from other injury and that (2) Plaintiff may have become spontaneously paralyzed before she fell were unreliable and speculative.

First, the court found that although Plaintiff eventually might have suffered from some other injury causing paralysis, it is also possible that she might have found out about her OPLL condition and had corrective surgery before an injury caused paralysis. Slip op. at 17. It was not possible to know with any degree of confidence or medical probability what would have happened were it not for Plaintiff’s experience with STL’s product, and the expert’s opinion was thus speculative, insufficiently reliable, and inadmissible. Id. at 18.

Second, the court found that Dr. Johnson’s opinion that Plaintiff may have become paralyzed before falling from STL’s equipment is speculative, unreliable, and inadmissible. During his deposition, Dr. Johnson testified that it was “possible” that something went wrong with Plaintiffs spinal cord before her fall, although he would not say it was “probable.” Slip. Op. at 21. This testimony was also in notable contrast to his testimony that without Plaintiff’s OPLL, she would have suffered only minor injury from her fall. Dr. Johnson did not provide sufficient support or reasoned methodology for his opinion. He did not identify any study or article regarding spontaneous paralysis. The only relevant facts or data relied on by Dr. Johnson were that Plaintiff had an extreme case of OPLL and purportedly had a “funny feeling” or numbness and tingling prior to the fall. The court found this insufficient.

Because the court excluded Dr. Johnson’s opinions on the above grounds, it did not reach the third ground regarding jury nullification.