Court: United States District Court for the District of Utah, Northern Division
Case Name: Stembridge v. Nat’l Feeds, Inc.
Citation: 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136789
In this case, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendant’s mink supplementary feed led to the loss of almost half of the plaintiff’s herd. The plaintiff’s veterinary expert explained that the supplement affected the mink’s immune system but incorrectly calculated the vitamin E levels. Due to the miscalculations, the defendant filed a motion to exclude the veterinary expert witness’s testimony.
The plaintiffs, a family of mink ranchers, filed a suit against the defendant, an animal food manufacturer. The complaint alleged that the defendant’s mink supplementary feed caused a fatal vitamin E deficiency and had led to a loss of almost half of the plaintiff’s herd. The plaintiffs retained a veterinary expert witness to support their case. The defendant filed this current motion to exclude the veterinary expert’s testimony.
The Plaintiff’s Veterinary Expert Witness
The plaintiff’s veterinary expert was one of the foremost researchers in mink and animal fur. The expert had over 30 years of experience at a veterinary clinic, focusing on food animal clients. He graduated with a degree in veterinary medicine from the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine and was board certified.
The plaintiff’s veterinary expert opined that the supplemental mink feed, Reproduction Crumlet, caused a drop in the total fat level present in the mink’s diet. This, in turn, caused a vitamin E deficiency when anything attacked their immune system. The veterinary expert further testified that monensin present in the supplemental feed accelerated the depletion rate for the already low levels of vitamin E. This, in the veterinary expert’s opinion, caused suppression in the mink’s immune systems. As a result, the mink died from infections and kidney failure.
The court noted that the veterinary expert had incorrectly calculated the vitamin E levels. However, the expert corrected this mistake in his supplemental report without explaining the initial miscalculation. But the court explains this did not automatically mean the expert was unqualified to opine about nutrition. The court thus rejected the defendant’s argument that the calculation required specialized knowledge of diet formulation. Additionally, the court was unaware of any expert obligation to explain their mistake. The court further noted that the veterinary expert had extensive experience treating animals’ dietary and nutritional needs. It found no basis on which to exclude the expert’s testimony pertaining to dietary issues.
The court explained that the veterinary expert, over the course of his practice, helped clients determine toxicology issues. Further, the expert participated in clinical studies that studied the effects of toxins on various animals. This extensive clinical experience, along with his skill and education in the subject, qualified him as an expert who was entitled to provide opinion testimony. The court further noted that the defendant’s challenge on the basis of methodology and the presence of contrary evidence affected the testimony’s weight and not its admissibility.
The court denied the defendant’s motion to exclude the plaintiff’s veterinary expert witness’s testimony.
Key Takeaways for Experts
This case demonstrates that although incorrect calculations may hurt your argument, that is not always the case. This error type may affect the weight of the testimony but not always the admissibility. Here, the expert’s background in research and education was more important in the court’s eyes. But remember, the opposition will go after anything they can to exclude an expert witness’s testimony so it’s critical to make sure there are no flaws.