Sunday, July 17, 2022
Seventh Circuit Finds District Judge Didn't Err in Denying Motion for Court Expert in Printing Press Accident Case
Federal Rule of Evidence 706(a) provides that
On a party’s motion or on its own, the court may order the parties to show cause why expert witnesses should not be appointed and may ask the parties to submit nominations. The court may appoint any expert that the parties agree on and any of its own choosing. But the court may only appoint someone who consents to act.
While a judge can thus appoint a court expert under Rule 706(a), there are few circumstances where a judge must appoint a court expert. Typically, those circumstances involve highly technical issues at trial that require expert explanation. So, what happened in Stevenson v. Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corp., 2022 WL 2526448 (7th Cir. 2022)?
Stevenson was injured in the course of his employment with a commercial printing company. He was moving a portable ladder in order to clean a component of a Primaflex printing press, manufactured by defendant Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corporation, that prints flexible packaging for consumer goods such as bread and potato chips. The printing press is a large machine measuring some 53 feet long and 17 feet high. The ladder Stevenson was handling was one of two supplied with the machine, and its use was necessary in order to reach an otherwise out-of-reach printing plate on the upper level of the machine's interior. As Stevenson moved the ladder, it caught on the 10-foot cable of an operator pendant attached to the machine, which caused him to twist and injure his left shoulder and back. He later had surgery as a result of the injury.
Stevenson filed [a] product-liability suit against Windmoeller on theories of negligence and strict liability, arguing that the design of the printing press—including the placement of the 10-foot cable near the access door used to service the interior components of the machine—was defective, in that it foreseeably gave rise to the very scenario that injured Stevenson: the ladder catching on the cable.
Stevenson's court-appointed counsel subsequently filed a motion asking the court to appoint an engineering expert. The district court denied this motion, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed on appeal, holding that
Stevenson would have to show, for example, that the court's own consideration of the evidence or the issues presented was hampered by the lack of an independent expert to aid and guide the court in its evaluation of the case. But Stevenson has not made any argument along these lines, and indeed the record does not suggest to us that the court had any difficulty in appreciating the nature of his claims or in resolving the arguments presented in the briefing on Windmoeller's motion for summary judgment.