Sports & Recreation Expert May Opine on Defective Flag Football Belt Despite No Prior Design Experience

Zach Barreto

Written by
— Updated on March 29, 2021

Sports & Recreation Expert May Opine on Defective Flag Football Belt Despite No Prior Design Experience

Court: Civil Court of the City of New York, Kings County
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Delgado v. Markwort Sporting Goods Co.
Citation: 2006 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 685

This case highlights an expert specialty that arguably requires both technical and practical experience: sports & recreation. Here, the defendant flag football belt manufacturer argues that the plaintiff’s sports & recreation expert does not have the design or manufacturing expertise to opine on whether the belt in question caused the plaintiff’s injury.

The court considers this argument, however, it determines the flag football belt is of simple design and that the expert could opine on how the belt is involved during play and on the alternate belts on the market. The expert could not speak to whether there was faulty design, but rather on the mechanics of players’ physical activity and belt usage in this type of sport.

Facts

This case involves product liability claims against the manufacturer of flag football belts. The plaintiff alleged that she was permanently and severely injured while playing in a women’s flag football game when her right ring finger became stuck in the D ring of an opposing player’s flag football belt. The plaintiff claimed that the defendant had defectively designed, engineered, packaged, shipped, and sold the flag football belt. The plaintiff retained a sports & recreation expert witness to testify to the finger-trapping dangers of the belt’s design and that the belt had been defectively designed. Further, the expert opined that there were other flag football belts available with safer designs and that the D ring was the causal competent of the plaintiff’s injury.

The Plaintiff’s Sports & Recreation Expert Witness

The sports & recreation expert witness was a retired Associate Director of Capital & Strategic Initiatives at the Ohio State University Department of Recreational Sports with 39 years of experience. The expert held MSc and PhD degrees in Physical Education. He also edited the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association Rules (NIRSA) and was co-editor of the official manual. In addition to comprehensive educational practices related to other competitive and intramural sports projects, he held touch and flag football seminars and gave a number of lectures on the official manual and NIRSA rules at NIRSA conferences. He had also engaged in the review of NIRSA flag football belts, the assessment of NIRSA member institutions on flag and touch football rules, and the study of injuries during these games. He was inducted into the United States Flag and Touch Football Hall of Fame in 1989. The expert had observed tens of thousands of flag football games.

The sports & recreation expert witness opined that the defendant’s flag football belt did not adhere to the 1993 and 1994 flag and touch football rules nor the NIRSA official manual—of which the expert was an editor. At trial, however, the expert was unable to establish that, in reality, the NIRSA rules were in use by either the belt manufacturers or customers.

The defendant objected, among a number of reasons, to the expert’s testimony because he had never educated or engaged in the design or manufacturing of these belts. The defendant also argued that the sports & recreation expert had not testified using evidence on the occurrence of injuries involving their belt or similar belts. The defendant asserted that the expert had failed to conduct any testing on their belt or conduct any research.

Discussion

The court observed that though the expert had not been engaged in the design or production of the flag football belts, his practical experience was adequate qualification as an expert witness in this product liability case, citing Caprara v Chrysler Corp. Furthermore, the court explained that the product in question was simple, and the basic principles and processes of minimal-contact football were fairly well understood. With his thorough knowledge in physical education and expertise in the usage of flag football belts, the court ruled that the expert was qualified to testify to the risks of the defendant’s belt and of other available flag football belts. The court did, however, note that the expert was not eligible to testify to all considerations related to the assessment of the faulty design. But given the expert’s education and experience, the court deemed him well suited to opine on consumer fair standards for the flag football belt.

Ruling

The defendant’s motion to exclude the sports & recreation expert witness’s testimony was denied.

Key Takeaways for Experts

This case demonstrates a specialty where technical education and practical experience are valuable in the eyes of the court. The defendant attempted to argue the expert was not qualified to opine on manufacturing topics, however, the court specifies that the sports & recreation expert isn’t speaking about the design itself, but rather, how the belt interacts with players’ physical activities both from his experience with regulation rules and personal observation of flag football games.

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