Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana
Case Name: O’Bryant v. Gray Ins. Co
Citation: 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 172275
This case involves a plaintiff who fell in a shower stall onboard a ship when the ship changed its course. The plaintiff sued the defendant for unsafe conditions for the shower stalls. They retained a maritime expert witness to discuss liability.
The maritime expert gave opinions on the incident, all of which the court found unhelpful. The court ruled to exclude the expert witness’s testimony.
The plaintiff was a seaman working on the defendant company’s ship. One day he was taking a shower after work when, unknowingly to him, the vessel changed its course. The plaintiff injured himself when he slipped and fell in the shower stall. He sued the shipowner company for failing to meet the duty of care in constructing and equipping the shower stalls. The plaintiff hired a maritime expert witness to establish liability.
The Plaintiff’s Maritime Expert Witness
The maritime expert witness offered five views related to this incident. First, he opined that this accident was avoidable. He claimed if the dispatcher had followed the instructions and not directed the vessel to sail, no damage to the plaintiff would have occurred. Second, the captain of the ship should have advised the personnel and riggers of the change of course under prevailing sea conditions. Third, the vessel’s larger shower stalls should have had handrails or pick-up bars. Fourth, the shower stalls on the ship should have had sufficient non-skid flooring. Finally, no documentation or evidence had been submitted to confirm that the Offshore Worker Orientation was given before the ship’s departure to the sea.
The court didn’t determine if the expert was an expert in the maritime field, maritime safety, and the captain’s role. However, the court turned to the maritime expert witness’s opinions on the incident.
Before addressing the expert’s opinions, the court stated they relied on his review of 13 photos of the shower stall. The photos, given by the plaintiff’s lawyers, identified the shower stall in which he fell. The expert acknowledged that he had no idea who took the photos and when the photographs were taken. Thus, there was no proof and no reason to believe the images accurately represented the state of the shower stall on the day of the accident. The maritime expert witness did have a great deal of experience in the maritime industry. Additionally, the expert pointed to some of the OSHA regulations that might be appropriate for scrutiny. However, he did not apply such provisions to form opinions a jury of laypersons could infer upon.
Even so, the court found the expert’s individual opinions unhelpful. The first opinion was not helpful because there were numerous hypothetical situations that could have resulted in injury. There was no evidence the master of the vessel or anyone else committed acts or omissions that fell below the required care. The second opinion was unhelpful because the expert provided no facts to support the claim. The appellant failed to give any testimony. Moreover, the appellant didn’t offer any affidavit. The affidavit could’ve shown that the appellant would have relied on that knowledge and refused to take a shower.
Furthermore, the expert didn’t state the shower was insufficient, ill-equipped, or dangerous on the grounds of any specifications or standards. The standards included the OSHA regulations. Saying other boats have specific facilities isn’t an informed view giving unique information from an expert to a layperson juror. The fifth opinion was also inadmissible because nothing in the expert’s study suggested that any worker orientation would include safety considerations for bathing onboard.
The motion to exclude the maritime expert’s testimony was granted.
Key Takeaways for Experts
When giving your opinions in a testimony, it’s important to back them up with facts and research. Although the expert did have experience in the maritime industry, his opinions on the incident were missing foundational support. Citing OSHA regulations could have helped the expert support his opinions. Professional experience and background knowledge are important for expert witnesses. Use what you know from research and your industry to back up your opinions. This way, your opinions are reinforced by data.