If a car accident is caused or exacerbated by a defective vehicle or faulty auto part, those who are injured may be able to claim damages from the manufacturer, dealer or repair shop.
Critical to these claims is expert witness testimony. To assert a claim for a defective product – whether its for negligence or strict liability – the plaintiff has to show:
- A defect was present in the product;
- The defect caused the injuries asserted in the complaint;
- The defect existed at the time the retailer or supplier parted with possession of the product.
Almost always, this requires an expert. In the recent case of Lesnik v. Duval Ford, the Florida First District Court of Appeals considered whether a trial court rightly omitted plaintiff’s expert witness testimony, thus resulting in dismissal of his case. Though not all justices agreed, the case was ultimately decided in favor of the defendant.
According to court records, the defendant sold a new truck to the original owner of the vehicle. Before taking ownership of that vehicle, the owner ordered a 6-inch lift kilt, which was installed by a subcontractor of defendant. During his ownership, the buyer modified the suspension system with a leaf spring and drove the truck 30,000 miles. He never had an issue with steering or suspension during that time.
The owner then sold the vehicle through a dealership to the plaintiff. The dealership conducted a routine inspection of the vehicle and noted no obvious problems.
Plaintiff experienced severe shaking of the truck’s steering wheel in October 2009. He had the truck repaired and made some additional modifications. Two months later, while plaintiff was driving, the steering and suspension of the truck failed suddenly. The vehicle flipped over and plaintiff was severely injured.
Plaintiff sued both dealerships in a car accident lawsuit. In support of his claim, plaintiff presented the expert witness testimony of a professional engineer. During deposition, the engineer was asked whether he had any opinion regarding the conduct of the second dealership and whether it played a role in the crash. Witness stated he did not. He was asked a similar question regarding the second dealership owner, and answered the same.
Later, in an affidavit, the same witness cited several sources of information indicating the second dealership would have had trade knowledge of the dangers of a truck being outfitted with the modifications it had, and also saying excessive tire wear and suspension issues should have been identified before the vehicle was sold to plaintiff.
Neither the affidavit nor plaintiff attorneys explained why the witness was now offering this opinion after previously testifying he didn’t have an opinion on the conduct of the second dealership.
Based on this, the court ruled in favor of the defense to omit this testimony, as it was “irreconcilably inconsistent” with his earlier deposition with no explanation regarding the inconsistency.
The appeals court affirmed, though a dissenting justice noted there was nothing in the statute or prior case law that prevented a witness from developing a later opinion on an issue where he previously had none.
But with the majority voting to uphold the summary judgment, the ruling stands.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Lesnik v. Duval Ford, Jan. 28, 2016, Florida First District Court of Appeal
More Blog Entries:
McFadden v. DOT – Negligent Highway Maintenance, Jan. 25, 2016, Fort Lauderdale Vehicle Defect Lawyer Blog