Knoxville Court Refuses to Exclude Physician's Expert Testimony in Premises Liability Case: Starnes v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP
In Starnes v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, a woman alleged in federal court that she sustained personal injuries when a large bottle of shampoo fell on her head while shopping at a Tennessee department store. According to the woman, the bottle fell because an employee knocked it over while restocking merchandise located on the same shelf in the next aisle. In her complaint, the woman claimed that she suffered neck and shoulder pain, dizziness, nausea, and a variety of other injuries as a result of being struck by the falling bottle.
Before trial, both the woman and the department store filed a motion for a Daubert hearing. When a party to a lawsuit files a Daubert motion, he or she is asking the court to admit or exclude certain expert testimony and evidence. The idea behind this motion is to ensure that the expert testimony offered by each party is based on scientifically valid and widely accepted methodology. A Daubert motion is considered by a judge while outside the jury's presence. In a federal proceeding, a Daubert hearing is evaluated using Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 702. Still, courts within the Sixth Circuit such as the Eastern District of Tennessee are not required to conduct a Daubert hearing.
After reviewing each party's written motion, the Knoxville court stated neither party provided the court with a sufficient level of detail. Both parties apparently failed to describe specific testimony challenges or apply Rule 702 to the case. Despite this, the court said oral arguments and exhibits offered the court a sufficient record on which to make its Daubert determination. Next, the Eastern District of Tennessee ruled that testimony offered by two of the woman's treating physicians should be allowed at trial. The federal court also held that the opinions of an expert witness hired by the department store to review the woman's medical file were permitted, except for irrelevant testimony that relied on another patient's medical records.