Court rejects Causation Opinions offered by Expert Witnesses with regard to Injuries Caused by an Allegedly Exploding Fluorescent Lamp on account of Lack of Adequate Testing and Investigation of the Accident

Court rejects Causation Opinions offered by Expert Witnesses with regard to Injuries caused by an Allegedly Exploding Fluorescent Lamp on account of Lack of Adequate Testing and Investigation of the Accident

This case involves a lawsuit filed by Donald F. Greene and Nicole F. Greene (“Plaintiffs”) against Ledvance LLC (“Defendant”) regarding injuries Donald Greene sustained when a fluorescent light bulb he was changing allegedly exploded. The incident occurred on June 11, 2020 at Donald Greene’s workplace. 

According to the allegations, On June 11, 2020, Donald Greene, employed as a site manager for Waste Connections, was in the process of changing a fluorescent light bulb located on a wall in the garage of his workplace when the light bulb suddenly and abruptly exploded without warning. Donald Greene sustained severe injuries, primarily to his left arm. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital where his left bicep wound was treated and closed surgically. He later underwent two additional surgeries on his left bicep performed by orthopedic surgeon Joshua P. Moss, who continued treating Donald Greene’s injuries. 

Plaintiffs brought suit against Defendant, the alleged designer, manufacturer, seller and distributor of the subject fluorescent light bulb, under the Tennessee Product Liability Acts. Plaintiffs alleged that because a fluorescent light bulb does not normally “violently explode” during normal handling, Defendant was also liable under the common law doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, contending that the nature of the incident itself implies negligence.

In the course of expert disclosures, Plaintiffs identified Moss as the treating physician for Plaintiff Greene. Moss intended to testify on causation, medical necessity, and details of Greene’s treatment, along with the impact of the injury on Greene’s physical abilities. His opinions emphasized that on June 11, 2020, Greene suffered a serious injury to his left arm when a fluorescent light bulb exploded during a change, causing immediate tissue disruption and bleeding in the left biceps area. Moss, drawing on his experience as an orthopedic surgeon for military personnel, asserted that the traumatic laceration of tissue in Greene’s left arm resulted from a force comparable to that experienced by military personnel injured by explosive ordnance of fragmentation devices. This distinction was crucial, indicating a highly violent force, as opposed to the type of injury that would typically result from a simple fall onto the bulb.

The Defendant sought to exclude specific testimony from Moss, specifically objecting to any opinions related to the fluorescent lamp at issue and the manner in which broken glass from the lamp might have caused Greene’s injury. The motion specifically aimed at precluding Moss from asserting that Greene’s injury resulted from an explosion or, based on his military experience, that the traumatic laceration was due to a highly violent force comparable to injuries sustained by soldiers exposed to explosive ordnance or fragmentation devices.

On May 26, 2023, the Plaintiffs revealed Thomas Kelly as their expert in the case. Kelly, a licensed electrical engineer employed by the Warrant Group, Inc. since 2017, specialized in consulting on property damage and injuries related to electrical equipment.

As part of his investigation, Kelly conducted three key activities: (1) examined the clothing worn by Plaintiff Greene on the day of the incident, (2) scrutinized lamps retrieved from adjacent fixtures at the facility, and (3) conducted a meeting with Plaintiff Greene to inspect, document, and photograph the light fixture and facility in question. In addition to these on-site activities, Kelly also reviewed various documents, including Plaintiff Greene’s deposition transcript, the emergency medical services and police reports from June 11, 2020, an invoice from Lloyd’s Electrical Service dated December 31, 2013, Safety Data Sheets for Sylvania fluorescent light bulbs, and photographs taken at the scene of the incident.

In his analysis, 1) The lamp’s power was cut off via the circuit breaker panel before the lamp-changing process, disconnecting the energy source for the fixture. The incident was not a result of an electrical failure in the building’s electrical system.

2) The light fixture in question contained a single electronic ballast, with no battery backup or stored energy. Power to the fixture had been deactivated by opening the related circuit breaker before the process began. Plaintiff Greene showed no observable burn marks on his hands, indicating no contact with an energized source. The light fixture was returned to service after replacing the lamps post-incident, and the issue was not caused by an electrical failure in the fixture.

3) Fluorescent lamps are constructed with thin glass tubing, coated with phosphorus on the inside. Glass end caps, tungsten filaments, and mercury vapor are components added during the assembly process, with stress accumulating during these steps. A defect in any component, influenced by these stresses, can act as a trigger. Kelly’s analysis concludes that the failure of the lamp resulted from a defect in the fluorescent lamp assembly, to a reasonable degree of engineering certainty.

On May 26, 2023, the same day Plaintiffs revealed Kelly as their expert, Defendant initiated a motion for summary judgment. In support of this motion, Defendant submitted declarations from its experts: David W. Powell, a mechanical engineer, and Erick H. Knox, Ph.D., P.E., a biomedical engineer. Additionally, Defendant filed a declaration from its corporate representative, Danielle Sohl. In response, Plaintiffs submitted Kelly’s Declaration:

It clarifies discrepancies in Plaintiff Greene’s initial description of the lamp removal process. He reaffirms his opinions on the lamp failure despite the correction in the direction of movement. Kelly discusses the ladder’s specifications, noting that the fly section’s load-bearing capacity is contingent on the entire assembly supporting the rated weight. He addresses marks on the walls, attributing them to various tools and parts rather than the ladder. Refuting Defendant’s hypothesis on the ladder’s position during the incident, Kelly highlights inconsistencies with the broken cover plate and plastic piece. He mentions challenges in evaluating debris due to safety concerns during the pandemic, emphasizing Greene’s account and post-incident photographs as primary evidence. Kelly references NFPA 921, asserting that while the lay term “explosion” was used, the circumstances don’t align with the standard’s definition. He applied NFPA 921 guidelines considering witness statements and photographic evidence. Regarding the SDS for the lamp, Kelly contends that the lack of warnings left Greene unaware of the hazard’s severity, leading to Defendant’s failure in providing adequate warnings.

Defendant filed two motions seeking to exclude certain expert testimony from Plaintiffs’ expert Thomas Kelly, an electrical engineer, as well as a motion to strike Kelly’s subsequent declaration. 

Thomas J. Kelly has substantial educational background including a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from Florida Atlantic University. He further completed Master of Business Administration from Winthrop University. He investigates the cause and scope of damage for fire, explosion, and property loss incidents. He is certified as a Fire and Explosion Investigator. He is employed with The Warren Group, Inc., as a senior consulting engineer

Dr. Joshua P. Moss has an educational background consisting of a Bachelor of Science from the University of Notre Dame and a Doctor of Medicine from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. His residency was in Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill School of Medicine. He then completed a fellowship in Mary S. Stern Hand Surgery at the University of Cincinnati. Moss is board certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery . His specialties include orthopedics and hand surgery. He began his practice at University Orthopaedic Surgeons in 2016.

The Defendant put forth several grounds in support of its motion to exclude specific aspects of Moss’s testimony. Firstly, the Defendant contended that Moss lacked sufficient knowledge concerning fluorescent light bulbs, emphasizing his absence of experiments to determine whether Greene’s injury could have resulted from impaling an arm on the broken end of a fluorescent lamp. Additionally, the Defendant asserted that Moss lacked experience in designing or manufacturing fluorescent light bulbs. Citing Moss’s deposition testimony, the Defendant argued that he conceded the existence of a viable alternative cause for Plaintiff Greene’s injury. Ultimately, the Defendant sought the Court’s intervention to exclude these opinions from Moss as unreliable.

Plaintiffs responded by asserting that Moss’s anticipated testimony was well within the scope of his expertise. They emphasized his background as an orthopedic surgeon for military personnel and his direct involvement in treating Plaintiff Greene. Plaintiffs argued that Moss’s opinions, rooted in his relevant experience, were reliable. While acknowledging that Moss is not an expert on light bulbs, Plaintiffs contended that the Defendant failed to provide a valid basis for excluding his opinions. They further asserted that the Defendant misrepresented Moss’s deposition testimony and contended that the challenges to his opinions were more appropriately addressed through cross-examination during the legal proceedings.

The Defendant, in its reply, maintained that Moss should not be permitted to present causation opinions during the trial. The Defendant argued that Moss had not personally conducted any testing to determine if Plaintiff Greene’s injuries could have resulted from an allegedly exploding fluorescent lamp. The Defendant emphasized that Moss had not undertaken any investigation into the accident beyond examining Plaintiff Greene’s wounds. Additionally, the Defendant highlighted Moss’s lack of experience in the manufacturing of fluorescent light bulbs. Based on these points, the Defendant asserted that excluding Moss’s causation opinion was justified.

During the hearing, the Defendant clarified its stance, indicating that it did not contest Moss’s opinions regarding the similarity of Plaintiff Greene’s injury to battlefield injuries or the assertion that the injuries resulted from glass. The Defendant also expressed lesser concern about Moss’s testimony characterizing the injuries as consistent with a “highly violative force.” However, the Defendant argued that Moss should be prevented from asserting that Plaintiff Greene’s injury specifically resulted from an exploding or imploding light bulb. In response, the Plaintiffs contended that the challenges raised by the Defendant pertained more to the weight of Moss’s opinions rather than their admissibility.

Citing relevant cases such as In re Aredia & Zometa Prods. Liab. Litig., 754 F. Supp. 2d 934, 937 (M.D. Tenn. 2010), there is a fundamental distinction between a treating physician’s ability to diagnose a medical condition based on clinical experience and their capacity to offer an opinion on the causation of the patient’s injuries. The case emphasizes that while a treating physician can provide a diagnosis, their opinions on the source or causation of the diagnosed condition may be restricted. It underscores the principle that a treating physician, without an expert report, is not allowed to go beyond information acquired during the treatment to offer opinions on the causation of injuries.

Plaintiffs argued that Moss had experience treating individuals with injuries related to glass. However, Moss admitted that, apart from installing them in his garage, he lacked familiarity with fluorescent light bulbs and did not consider himself an expert on them. Federal Rule of Evidence 702 was referenced to underscore the requirement that expert testimony should be based on an accepted body of learning or experience in the expert’s field. Moreover, Moss, aside from relying on Plaintiff Greene’s account, had not conducted an independent investigation into the accident to verify that the light bulb had indeed exploded.

Additionally, Moss acknowledged an inability to rule out alternative causes for Plaintiff’s injuries. Citing the case, Wilson v. Taser Int’l, Inc., 303 F. App’x 708 (11th Cir. 2008), where a treating physician’s testimony attributing an injury to a taser gun was deemed unreliable, the Court concluded that Moss was not permitted to provide opinions concerning the fluorescent lamp in question or how broken glass from that lamp may have caused injury to the Plaintiff.

During the Daubert hearing on November 16, 2023, Kelly provided testimony about his professional background, detailing his fifteen years in facilities management with formal training on equipment such as ladders and fire extinguishers. In his current role, he specializes in fire, shock, and electrical investigations. Kelly asserted that the incident resulted from the fluorescent light bulb imploding and expelling glass material. He clarified the distinction between “implosion” and “explosion” based on NFPA definitions, highlighting that an implosion, as observed in this case, may be colloquially perceived as an explosion. To reach his conclusions, Kelly examined the building’s use, assessed the electrical circuit and wiring, disassembled the light fixture, and met with Plaintiff Greene to understand his perspective. Confirming the functionality of the fixture and finding no defects, Kelly ruled out electrical failure. He utilized his knowledge and experience to hypothesize, evaluate potential causes, and ultimately concluded that a manufacturing defect in the light bulb caused the incident.

During the testimony, Kelly affirmed his familiarity with the light bulb in question, citing his experience using and purchasing it during his tenure as a facilities manager. He also acquired knowledge of the bulb’s manufacturing process from a documentary. Kelly supported his opinion that the incident was not caused by improper handling by referencing Plaintiff Greene’s demonstration and noting the absence of trauma to Greene’s hands.

Kelly clarified that his opinions in the Declaration were responsive to the declarations of Defendant’s experts supporting the summary judgment motion. Regarding paragraph 6 of his Declaration, Kelly explained his interpretation of ladder weight limits based on his experience and training. The opinions in paragraph 8 stemmed from his review of photographs and professional experience, where he observed no scuff marks on the floor, indicating the ladder did not slide down the wall.

In his Declaration, Kelly mentioned concerns about bloodborne pathogens and pandemic-related cleanup. During testimony, he emphasized his knowledge of injuries involving bleeding, his multiple bloodborne pathogens training sessions, and his participation in a medical emergency response team with a previous employer.

During the Daubert hearing, Kelly testified to his extensive experience in facilities management, emphasizing his training in ladders, fire safety, and electrical investigations. He explained his conclusion that the incident resulted from the fluorescent light bulb imploding and ejecting glass, clarifying the technical definition of “explosion” and detailing his examination of the building’s usage, electrical circuit, and the light fixture’s components.

Kelly affirmed his familiarity with the specific light bulb through prior usage and purchases, as well as viewing a documentary on its manufacturing process. He defended his opinions in response to Defendant’s expert declarations, providing context for his interpretations. On cross-examination, Kelly acknowledged his lack of expertise as a ladder specialist or accident reconstructionist but defended his hypothesis about the light bulb’s spontaneous failure due to a manufacturing defect.

Kelly admitted to not having investigated the manufacturing process, quality control, or conducting specific tests on exemplar bulbs. He highlighted his reliance on Plaintiff Greene’s account and dismissed alternative causes, emphasizing his inability to test the actual subject light bulb. The defense questioned his analysis of marks on the wall and ladder placement, challenging the adequacy of his investigation. Kelly defended his lack of testing, citing unavailability of the subject light bulb and reliance on Plaintiff Greene’s account.

In re-direct examination, Kelly maintained that something caused the light bulb to implode, stressing factors like temperature changes. He admitted to the absence of testing records due to the closure of the manufacturing plant. Kelly clarified that his failure-to-warn opinion was a facilities manager’s perspective, not an engineering standpoint, responding to Powell’s description of implosion in his testimony.

Defendant seeks to exclude Kelly’s testimony, contending it lacks relevance and is based on insufficient facts or unreliable methodology under Rule 702 and Daubert. Defendant moves to strike Kelly’s opinions expressed in his Declaration, claiming they are untimely under the Scheduling Order and inadmissible. Plaintiffs argue that Kelly is qualified, and his opinions are based on thorough review, utilizing a valid process of elimination. Plaintiffs assert that Sohl’s deposition undermines Powell’s theory. Defendant’s reply insists on Kelly’s failure to identify a product defect, lack of proper testing, and presents new opinions beyond his expertise. The debate also touches on the timeliness of Kelly’s Declaration and the potential for a supplemental deposition.

The Court emphasized the flexibility of the Daubert test, acknowledging various factors in assessing reliability. The burden of proving admissibility lies with the party offering the expert. In this case, the Court determined that Kelly’s opinion on the cause of the incident lacked reliability, leading to its inadmissibility. The Court also questioned Kelly’s qualifications regarding warnings and considered his opinion on the cleanup process as speculative.

The Court, in assessing Kelly’s qualification to opine on Plaintiff Greene’s handling of the light bulb, found the opinion lacked reliability due to insufficient facts and data. Kelly’s reliance on Plaintiff Greene’s reenactment, without proper testing or verification of key aspects, raised concerns about the accuracy of the conclusion. The Court highlighted discrepancies in the reenactment, such as the ladder type used, rung spacing, and the attempt to change the bulb using the ladder’s top fly section. Additionally, Kelly’s speculative opinions on wall marks, scuff marks, electrical conduct, and debris investigation were deemed unreliable and unsupported. The Court referenced the analytical gap between data and opinion, emphasizing the need for a valid scientific basis.

The Court contested Kelly’s qualifications to assert a manufacturing defect in the light bulb assembly, challenging his expertise as a licensed professional engineer and facilities manager. Despite his background, the Court found Kelly lacked the necessary qualifications to testify on a manufacturing defect in a fluorescent light bulb. His limited familiarity, derived from watching a video, and the absence of experience in designing or manufacturing such bulbs were deemed insufficient. Moreover, the Court critiqued Kelly’s methodology, citing the Pride v. BIC Corp., 218 F.3d 566, 578 (6th Cir. 2000) case and emphasizing the failure to conduct reliable laboratory testing to validate his hypotheses. Kelly’s reliance on Plaintiff’s statements without proper testing and failure to verify key aspects rendered his opinion on manufacturing defects inadmissible.

The Court contested Kelly’s qualifications to opine on warnings, as Plaintiffs failed to establish his expertise in the field relevant to warnings. While Plaintiffs argued Kelly’s experience as a facilities manager and familiarity with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) standards rendered him capable, the Court found this insufficient, emphasizing the absence of qualifications in the adequacy of warnings based on Kelly’s curriculum vitae. Therefore, the Court deemed Kelly unqualified to offer an opinion on warnings. Additionally, the Court addressed Kelly’s opinion about the cleanup process, finding it speculative and inadmissible due to the lack of factual foundation for his statement about the disposal of debris.

Rule 26(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs expert disclosures, requiring parties to disclose witnesses and provide a written report for retained experts. The Scheduling Order sets deadlines for expert disclosures and permits rebuttal opinions within 30 days after the other party’s disclosure. Rule 26(a)(2)(D)(ii) defines rebuttal evidence as intended to contradict or rebut evidence on the same subject matter. Plaintiffs, in this case, disclosed expert opinions within the specified deadlines, and Defendant contested certain opinions in Kelly’s Declaration as untimely. Defendant challenged four opinions in Kelly’s Declaration: “(1) certain black marks on the wall are as likely to be from other sources from the ladder [Plaintiff] Greene was using, (2) a plastic piece on the floor does not match the missing portion of an electrical outlet cover, (3) certain NFPA guidelines do not apply to this case, and (4) [Defendant] failed to warn that if broken, a fluorescent lamp can implode, dispersing glass fragments.” The Court ruled against striking most opinions but found one regarding failure to warn untimely, excluding it under Rule 37.

Defendant contends that Kelly is introducing new information in his analysis, which could have been considered earlier. Plaintiffs argue that Kelly’s opinions are valid rebuttals to Knox, responding to inconsistencies in Plaintiff Greene’s account of certain black marks on the wall and a plastic piece on the floor highlighted by Knox. The Court deems Kelly’s opinions on these matters as appropriate rebuttal testimony and rejects the motion to strike them.

Defendant claims that Kelly’s statement in his declaration about the lamp failure not fitting the NFPA 921 standard is an attempt to alter his previous deposition testimony. Plaintiffs argue that their response to Defendant’s summary judgment motion required Kelly to review and address new information provided by the Defendant. The Court determines that Kelly’s statement is not an effort to change his deposition testimony, and as a result, declines to strike it.

The Court determines that regardless of whether Kelly’s opinion introduces a new theory of liability, it is not a proper rebuttal opinion. Defendant’s experts did not provide opinions on warnings, as acknowledged by Kelly during the Daubert hearing. Since failure to warn is alleged in the Amended Complaint and Kelly disclosed in his initial disclosure that the light bulb exploded, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs should have initially disclosed an opinion from an expert with the requisite qualifications regarding warnings. As they disclosed Kelly’s new opinions that he is not qualified to render, the Court finds that these opinions are not genuine rebuttal evidence and may be excluded.

The Court cites Rule 37(c)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, stating that if a party fails to provide required information or identify a witness as per Rule 26(a), they cannot use that information or witness unless the failure was substantially justified or harmless. The burden to show substantial justification or harmlessness lies with the potentially sanctioned party. The Court references the Sixth Circuit’s five factors for assessing whether a party’s omitted or late disclosure is “substantially justified” or “harmless,” including the surprise to the opposing party, the ability to cure the surprise, the extent of trial disruption, the importance of the evidence, and the nondisclosing party’s explanation for the failure to disclose the evidence. The Court refers to Howe v. City of Akron, 801 F.3d 718, 747-48 (6th Cir. 2015) for these factors.

The Court concludes that a majority of the factors favor the exclusion of Kelly’s opinions. Despite the Plaintiffs’ assertion that the Defendant cannot be surprised because Kelly’s original report allowed for supplementation with additional opinions, the Court emphasizes that such allowance does not permit the introduction of entirely new opinions in violation of the Scheduling Order. It notes that the Defendant lacks the ability to cure the surprise, even with the Plaintiffs’ offer to provide Kelly for a second deposition, as the Defendant would need to potentially retain its own warnings expert and prepare a rebuttal report. The Court underscores that there will be no trial disruption, but the discovery deadline has already expired. The Court also deems the importance of the evidence as favoring exclusion, pointing out that Kelly is not qualified under Rule 702 and Daubert to render the opinion on warnings. Finally, in terms of explanation, the Court rejects the Plaintiffs’ argument that Kelly’s opinion is a rebuttal, determining that it is not, and notes that the Plaintiffs were aware of the Defendant’s intention to submit evidence related to glass tube dispersion. The Court concludes that the Howe factors lean towards excluding Kelly’s opinions on warnings.

The Court ultimately granted Defendant’s motion to exclude the testimony of Thomas J. Kelly  in its entirety. The Court also granted in part and denied in part Defendant’s motion to strike the declaration of Thomas J. Kelly. The Court granted the Defendant’s motion to exclude specific testimony from Plaintiff’s expert witness, Joshua Moss.

The Court has not arrived on an outcome for this case since the remaining issues involved in this case still await resolution.

This case involved an injury allegedly caused by an exploding fluorescent light bulb. The Plaintiff disclosed his treating orthopedic surgeon, Joshua Moss, as an expert witness to testify about the cause of the injury, the details of treatment provided, the impact on the Plaintiff’s abilities, and the reasonableness of medical expenses. However, the Court granted the Defendant’s motion to exclude certain aspects of Moss’s proposed testimony. 

Specifically, the Court found that while Moss could testify to his diagnosis and treatment of the Plaintiff’s injuries, he lacked sufficient knowledge and investigation to reliably opine on the cause of the injuries being an exploding light bulb. Moss admitted he was not an expert on fluorescent bulbs, did not investigate the accident scene, and could not rule out alternative causes. Thus, the key takeaways are that treating physicians can testify to diagnosis/treatment but cannot reliably testify to causation without proper expertise in the injury mechanism at issue and investigation excluding alternative causes. Lacking such foundation, the Court will exclude unreliable causation opinions even from an otherwise qualified expert.

The Court also excluded all opinions from Plaintiffs’ proffered electrical engineering expert Thomas Kelly after finding him generally unqualified and his methodology unreliable. Specifically, Kelly lacked specific qualifications and expertise to opine on alleged manufacturing defects in fluorescent light bulbs or the adequacy of product warnings. His opinions were also not grounded in sufficient facts, data, or testing to validate his hypotheses. He failed to properly test or investigate alternative theories. This reliability gap proved fatal to the admissibility of his causation opinions.

The case shows that practical experience alone may not qualify someone to provide expert opinions if that experience does not directly correlate to the specific issues in the case. It also demonstrates that while an expert can rely on a hypothesis and process of elimination, testing and factual data are still required to establish opinions as reliable and admissible. Failing to follow reliable principles and methods consistent with the facts renders expert testimony unreliable and subject to exclusion no matter the expert’s qualifications. Parties must vet experts thoroughly regarding qualifications and methodology before disclosure.