Court: Supreme Court of Mississippi
Case Name: Brown v. Prof’l Bldg. Servs.
Citation: 252 So. 3d 23
The plaintiff, a clubhouse manager at Colonial Country Club, had a slip and fall accident while at a restaurant for monthly inventory visit. The plaintiff allegedly walked into a chair causing him to fall and pass out. The plaintiff was taken to the hospital upon regaining his senses and was diagnosed with a bilateral patellar tendon rupture in both knees. He underwent surgery for his injuries. The plaintiff was then transferred to a rehabilitation hospital where he had two more surgeries and spent more than two months rehabilitating.
The plaintiff filed a negligence action against the defendant restaurant, but the jury’s verdict was found in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff filed an appeal arguing that the trial court had abused its discretion by allowing the defendant’s expert in biomechanics to testify. The biomechanics expert alleged that the plaintiff’s claim that he suffered bilateral patellar tendon ruptures by walking into a chair was not possible.
The Biomechanics Expert
The defendant’s biomechanics expert held a degree in nuclear engineering as well as an MD. He had practiced family and emergency medicine for 19 years. For 13 years, he had also worked as a consultant and expert witness for Biodynamic Research Corporation.
The biomechanics expert was hired by the defendant to conduct an injury causation analysis and analyze whether the impact of the chair caused the plaintiff’s bilateral patellar tendon ruptures. The expert discussed studies the type and severity of incidents that generally results in a bilateral patellar tendon rupture. The expert compared those findings to the plaintiff’s alleged claim. The expert testified that walking into and falling over a chair cannot cause the patellar of tendon rupture. He testified that activities like weightlifting and motions, such as running vigorously and then suddenly stopping, were common causes of patellar tendon rupture. In his report, the expert concluded that it was impossible that plaintiff’s injury was caused by falling over a chair.
The plaintiff argued that the expert’s conclusions were sheer conjecture. The plaintiff challenged the sources that the expert used, claiming they were merely orthopedic journals and insufficient to reach such conclusions. The plaintiff also argued that the expert never conducted any tests or simulations about whether walking into a chair could result in a bilateral patellar tendon rupture.
Nothing in the record confirmed that the expert’s sources were sufficient to back his claims — but then it also did not provide any evidence to suggest that the sources were lacking a scientific basis. Since no evidence was presented to suggest that these articles from orthopedic journal lacked a scientific basis, it could not be said that the trial court erred in finding that the expert’s testimony was based on sufficient facts and was the product of reliable principles and methods. It was thus determined that the expert’s conclusions were not sheer conjecture.
Lastly, the plaintiff claimed that the expert failed to conduct any simulations or visit the scene of the plaintiff’s alleged accident to take measurements. The plaintiff argued this action was critical to presenting the case at hand. The plaintiff did not provide any reasonable explanation regarding why his having flipped over the chair would necessitate a simulation. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion on this ground either.
The plaintiff’s motion to exclude the testimony of the expert was denied.