Retail Safety Expert’s Experience From 50 Years Prior Fails to Stand in Daubert Challenge

    Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
    Jurisdiction: Federal
    Case Name: Yazujian v. PetSmart
    Citation: 729 Fed. Appx. 213

    Facts

    In the initial trial, the plaintiff alleged she slipped and fell on a water puddle in a retail store owned by the defendant. In her lawsuit, she sought compensation from the defendant for her injury. In the course of the jury trial, the district court ruled that the plaintiff’s presented retail safety expert was not qualified to testify as an expert. The court further ruled that his methodology was unreliable, the jury did not benefit from his opinion, and, thus, his testimony was precluded. At the conclusion of trial, the jury delivered a verdict in the defendant’s favor. Afterward, the plaintiff appealed this decision, alleging that the district court had abused its discretion by precluding the retail safety expert witness’s testimony.

    The Retail Safety Expert Witness

    The appellant argued that her presented retail safety expert was wrongly prohibited from testifying during the initial trial. She argued that the retail safety expert was, in fact, qualified to opine on industry best practices when dealing with inclement weather. The appellant further asserted that the expert’s training and experience more than equipped him to testify. She also argued that his methodology was reliable, was beyond the ordinary juror’s knowledge, and was, thus, admissible for that reason.

    Discussion

    Upon close examination of the record, the appellate court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion by precluding the expert. The court explained that the expert had no academic training in retail safety, no formal store management or safety training, and no retail job experience except as a stock clerk more than 50 years previously. Instead, the expert asserted that his expertise and specialized knowledge were based on his study of more than 100 retail store manuals and his time working with an alleged retail safety expert. This work involved trips to retail stores where he would walk through and look around.

    The expert acknowledged there are no specific retail safety industry requirements. Alternatively, he tried to offer his insight into what the industry best practices were based on a study of unspecified retail safety manuals. He provided no empirical data to suggest why those particular guides were important when others were not. He also acknowledged his procedures were not peer-reviewed. There was no indication that any retail safety experts had tested, approved, or used this methodology. Critically, in this situation, he had not even studied the defendant’s safety policies. Accordingly, the appellate court agreed with the district court that the witness was not qualified as a retail safety expert witness and that his opinion was the product of unreliable principles and methodology.

    Held

    The appellate court upheld the lower court’s decision to preclude the retail safety expert from testifying.