Court admits the opinions of opposing experts about standard of care exercised to treat burn injuries in flight

Court admits the opinions of opposing experts about standard of care exercised to treat burn injuries in flight

This is a claim for damages under Article 17 and Article 21 of the Montreal Convention concerning an incident that occurred on February 11, 2022, during a JetBlue international flight from Orlando, Florida, to Montego Bay, Jamaica. The Plaintiff Julian Buonomo (“Buonomo”) sustained serious injuries when hot water spilled on his right arm and flank. He filed a suit against Defendant JetBlue Airways Corporation (“JetBlue”) under the Montreal Convention, alleging the incident resulted in first and second-degree burns, scarring, and other permanent injuries. 

Two expert witnesses were challenged in the case. JetBlue moved to strike Plaintiff’s expert Kathleen Lord-Jones, while Buonomo moved to strike Defendant’s expert Nicholas Namias. 

The Defendant’s Motion aims to exclude three opinions presented by Plaintiff’s expert, Lord-Jones:

1. The assertion that Flight Attendant Cruz did not adequately secure and lock the lid in the “closed” position on the hot beverage server while it was positioned on the beverage cart next to Buonomo’s seat. Alternatively, it was suggested that she failed to place the lid on the server altogether. According to Lord-Jones, these actions were deemed unreasonable in light of industry-wide safety practices, resulting in the creation of a hazardous condition and compromising the health and safety of Buonomo.

2. According to Lord-Jones, JetBlue failed to adopt, implement, and train its flight attendants on Best Practices and Adopted Industry Standards related to the placement of unsecured items on top of a beverage cart during a turbulence event. It was asserted that this failure created a dangerous condition deviating from the standard of care, posing a risk to Buonomo’s personal safety.

3. Lord-Jones contended that Flight Attendant Cruz failed to adhere to her First Aid safety procedures for burn treatment during the flight. Specifically, she provided ice to Buonomo to apply on his burns after the hot water incident, a deviation from the standard of care. This failure was argued to have compromised Buonomo’s health, wellbeing, and overall care.

The Defendant’s expert witness, Namias, provided an opinion on the reasonableness and appropriateness of the care given to the Plaintiff after the incident, including JetBlue’s initial provision of ice for the burn. The Plaintiff filed a Motion seeking to exclude Namias’ opinion, citing three grounds: (1) his testimony lacked a sufficient basis in facts or data; (2) he failed to employ a reliable methodology and did not apply methods reliably to the case’s facts; and (3) the opinion would have had a prejudicial effect on the jury, with reference to Federal Rule of Evidence 403.

Flight Attendant Expert Witness

Kathleen Lord-Jones has over 24 years of experience as a certified flight attendant and is known as an expert in aviation cabin safety and survivability. She obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology from the University of Colorado. Lord-Jones was trained and worked as a flight attendant at American Airlines for 24 years, starting in 1987. She graduated from the American Airlines Flight Attendant Academy that same year. Additionally, she served as the National Safety Coordinator for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants for 10 years, providing recommendations to the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration during formal accident investigations. She specializes in aircraft accident investigation, cabin safety, survivability, and security. Currently, Lord-Jones works as an Associate for Robson Forensic, Inc. 

Surgery Expert Witness

Dr. Nicholas Namias obtained his medical degree at the University of Medicine and Dentistry, Rutgers Medical School. He finished his general surgery residency program at Jackson Memorial Hospital associated with the University of Miami. After that, Namias remained at Jackson Memorial to complete fellowships focused on surgical critical care and trauma, based out of the hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center. He then completed his M.B.A. from the University of Miami, School of Business. His areas of expertise include trauma, surgical critical care, and burn treatment. Presently, he holds the Robert Zeppa Chair in Surgery at the University of Miami. He is also the Director of the Ryder Trauma Center and also serves as a Professor of Anesthesiology at the University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine.

Discussions by the Court 

The Court first addressed Lord-Jones’s qualifications and then evaluated the reliability and helpfulness of the three opinions presented.

According to Plaintiff, Lord-Jones had “impeccable” qualifications, having obtained her college degree from the University of Colorado and receiving training as a flight attendant from American Airlines, where she worked for 24 years. The Court agreed with Plaintiff, stating that Lord-Jones was sufficiently qualified to offer the three challenged opinions, which involved an analysis of the carafe in question, flight attendant training policies, and in-flight first aid safety procedures. The Court noted that the qualifications standard is not overly stringent, and objections to the level of expertise pertain to credibility and weight rather than admissibility.

The Defendant raised objections to Lord-Jones’s demonstration, which aimed to simulate the accident involving a hot beverage server on February 11, 2022. Plaintiff responded by explaining that Lord-Jones considered various factors in the demonstration, such as the height of an average beverage cart, the server, and the estimated impact of turbulence based on Flight Attendant Neida Cruz’s testimony. Lord-Jones conducted the demonstration by dropping the beverage server three times in the on/off position and three times in the closed position. The findings indicated that the lid came off when dropped in the on/off position, while it remained secure when dropped in the closed position.

The Court had previously determined that Lord-Jones was adequately qualified to conduct the demonstration. Contrary to the Defendant’s suggestion, it was not necessary for Lord-Jones to possess expertise in product defect testing. Her industry experience, coupled with her role in offering expertise to the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, was deemed sufficient. The Court emphasized that her experience did not need to precisely align with the specific matter at hand.

JetBlue raised objections to Lord-Jones’s methodology, characterizing the experiment as resembling a fourth-grade science project. The Defendant argued that Lord-Jones lacked a technical or scientific background in the relevant area. Additionally, the Defendant contended that her experiment was not reproducible or retestable, making it impossible to recreate. The Defendant expressed concerns about the absence of recorded data, loose and imprecise measurements, and Lord-Jones’s failure to accurately replicate the accident, criticizing her for haphazardly tossing the carafe around her lawn during the experiment.

In contrast, the Plaintiff asserted that Lord-Jones’s opinion was reliable, being grounded in “an abundance of evidence in this case that she reviewed, cites in her expert report, and relied upon in forming this opinion”. The Plaintiff contended that Lord-Jones examined the exemplar carafe, photos of the carafe, and the care and handling instructions detailing the various positions of the carafe top. Furthermore, Lord-Jones, having worked with similar hot beverage servers as a flight attendant, brought her experience into the analysis. According to the Plaintiff, the demonstration conducted by Lord-Jones served to affirm what the evidence and her experience had already established: that the carafe’s top would have remained secure if properly fastened when falling from the beverage cart.

The Court concurred that Lord-Jones’s methodology was reliable, emphasizing that this was not a case where the experiment deviated significantly from real-world conditions. The nature of the experiment did not involve “hard science” but instead constituted an expert offering non-scientific, experience-based testimony. The Court assessed whether her preparation aligned with what others in the field would recognize as acceptable, considering Lord-Jones’s substantial practical experience. Notably, the Defendant’s expert agreed with certain aspects of Lord-Jones’s findings.

Lord-Jones’s report indicated that the results were consistent with her past experience and training with hot beverage servers, as well as with the manufacturer’s literature and JetBlue Corporate Representative Melendez’s testimony. The Court acknowledged that objections to the study’s inadequacies were more appropriately seen as challenges to the evidence’s weight rather than its admissibility.

In this case, the Court noted that the testimony went beyond what an average lay person might offer and would undoubtedly assist the trier of fact, citing Webb v. Carnival Corp., 321 F.R.D. 420, 425 (S.D. Fla. 2017).

JetBlue argued that Lord-Jones’s second opinion was unreliable and took issue with Lord-Jones’s statement regarding the best practices of the International Transport Association, asserting that Flight Attendant Cruz had adhered to JetBlue’s policy, which did not mandate placing anything on the floor. However, the Plaintiff countered that Lord-Jones’s observation did not pertain to Flight Attendant Cruz’s failure to comply with company policies; rather, her opinion focused on JetBlue lacking proper policies. Lord-Jones’s recommendations were rooted in industry best practices, not solely JetBlue’s internal policies. The Court acknowledged that this testimony would be valuable to the fact finder in understanding industry policies concerning the placement of unsecured items on beverage carts during turbulence. Citing Webb, the Court also noted that this information was beyond the understanding of the average layperson.

The expert in this case, Lord-Jones, cited both the International Transport Association guidelines on catering and equipment checks during turbulence and JetBlue’s Flight Attendant Manual. Lord-Jones applied these guidelines to Flight Attendant Cruz’s statements, concluding that, based on her knowledge, training, and experience, the safest practice was to remove items, particularly those with hot liquids, from the top of the cart during turbulence. Lord-Jones further stated that relocating these items to a safer place, either inside the cart or on the aircraft floor if possible, would eliminate or reduce the chances of spills or impacts on passengers. Failure to take these precautions created a “dangerous condition” for Buonomo. The Court noted that Lord-Jones’s opinions did not rely on a “trust-me-I’m-a-flight-attendant methodology,” as argued by the Defendant.

Finally, JetBlue contended that Lord-Jones’s opinion on the use of ice for burns was unnecessary for an expert witness. However, the Court disagreed, stating that Lord-Jones’s testimony, drawn from her over two decades of experience as a flight attendant, provided insights into Flight Attendant Cruz’s alleged failure to follow training or consult the in-flight manual, which explicitly advises against using ice for certain burns. The Court emphasized that the opinion did not need to be strictly “scientific,” as Daubert and Rule 702 allow for the application of scientific, technical, or specialized expertise to aid the trier of fact in understanding evidence and determining fact issues. While acknowledging the need for reliability in evidence, the Court highlighted that for nonscientific expert testimony, the trial judge must have considerable leeway in deciding in a particular case how to go about determining whether particular expert testimony is reliable. Lord-Jones’s conclusion that the flight attendants were not properly trained, based on their actions following the burn, was rooted in her consideration of the accident and the relevant section of the JetBlue’s Flight Attendant Manual. The Court found this testimony helpful and met the Daubert reliability requirement.

Nicholas Namias expressed the opinion that the medical care provided to the Plaintiff, including the initial use of ice to cool the burn, was reasonable and appropriate. In his assessment, based on a review of medical records and photographs of Buonomo, he indicated that concerns regarding cooling applied primarily to large burns where there might be a risk of inducing hypothermia. Namias concluded that in this case, cooling served to slow the burning process without causing harm. Additionally, he stated that Plaintiff’s wounds had progressed as expected, offering opinions on potential future medical care. The Court addressed Namias’ opinion concerning the qualifications, reliability, and helpfulness criteria as outlined in the Daubert standard.

As an initial point, the Defendant highlighted the qualifications and experience of its expert, Nicholas Namias, in treating burn patients. According to information from Namias’ report, he outlined his extensive training and experience, including four years of medical school, five years of surgical residency, a two-year trauma and critical care fellowship, and over 20 years of practice specializing in burns, spanning from 1996 to 2016.

The Plaintiff appears to question Namias’ qualifications only in relation to his lack of experience treating burn patients with ice and his absence of firsthand application of ice to burns in non-medical situations. In the Reply, the Plaintiff cites excerpts from Namias’ deposition where he acknowledges that there is no point in applying ice to burns once the patient arrives at the hospital because the burning process is already completed. Despite providing this testimony, the Plaintiff’s argument is countered by Namias’ own statement that there would be no planned treatment involving repetitive applications of ice every several hours over a course of days. The conclusion is drawn that a doctor would generally lack experience applying ice to burn victims at the hospital due to the completed nature of the burning process. The Court emphasized that Namias is more than minimally qualified to provide opinions on the appropriate care for treating burns, given his 20 years of experience in the field. It noted that objections to the level of his expertise would pertain to credibility and weight rather than admissibility.

The core of the Plaintiff’s argument revolves around the reliability of Namias’ testimony. The Plaintiff contested Namias’ opinion, citing the absence of references to treatises or other supporting materials and his lack of knowledge concerning the care provided by JetBlue to the Plaintiff. Buonomo asserted that the expert failed to provide a methodology for arriving at the conclusion that JetBlue’s care was appropriate, characterizing it as speculative. The Plaintiff contended that if a witness relies primarily on experience, they must explain how that experience leads to the conclusion, justify why it is a sufficient basis for the opinion, and demonstrate how that experience is reliably applied to the facts, quoting Fed. R. Evid. 702, advisory committee’s notes to 2000 amendment.

In this case, although Namias’ report did not explicitly detail his methodology, it is reasonable to infer that his approach involved applying his knowledge and experience in treating burn patients to the case documents he reviewed. The Court noted that the lack of specific methodology details was overcome by analyzing the expert’s experience and training. Similarly, Adams v. Lab. Corp. of Am., 760 F.3d 1322, 1330 (11th Cir. 2014) , emphasized that a physician’s extensive and relevant experience contributes to the reliability of their methodology. Namias, described as an experienced-based expert medical professional with two decades of practice treating burn patients, was deemed to have a reliable methodology. The argument that Namias failed to evaluate the facts or data before forming his opinion was countered by the assertion that he reviewed the medical records and photographs of the Plaintiff’s injuries, discussed the lingering effects of the burn in detail, and applied his medical knowledge to the presented facts.

The Plaintiff raised concerns about Namias not relying on studies in his report and the books mentioned in his deposition covering burns generally, not specifically the treatment of burns with ice. In response, Namias testified that there are limited textbooks specifically on burns, mentioning one authoritative textbook on burns and another on trauma that discusses burns. The Plaintiff did not provide authoritative texts on the precise area of study—treating burns with ice—to support its argument. Namias supported his position by stating that there would be no big randomized control trial of treating a burn with ice, and his report emphasized that concerns in the burn literature over cooling burns primarily applied to large burns. The Court noted that Plaintiff’s argument failed, and it highlighted that there is no inherent requirement for a medical expert to reference independent studies supporting their conclusion.

The Plaintiff argued that Namias’ report and deposition lacked an explanation for why his experience as a doctor led to his conclusion or why it was a sufficient basis for his opinion. The Plaintiff emphasized a particular statement made by the expert, highlighting the expert’s assertion that their conclusion was reached “anecdotally.” The statement in question by the expert was: “If you have a small burn and can get immediate cooling to stop the burn, anecdotally that would be helpful”.

Upon reviewing the expert’s report and deposition transcript, the Court found that it was evident that Namias’ ultimate conclusion was not solely or predominantly derived from anecdotal experience. Instead, his extensive experience with burn victims served as a foundation from which he reasonably formed an opinion on the initial use of ice to cool the Plaintiff’s burn. The Court noted that Namias was not obligated to personally examine the Plaintiff for his expert opinion to be considered reliable.

While the Plaintiff briefly challenged the helpfulness of the expert’s testimony in its Reply, the Court addressed the issue. Rule 702(a) of the Federal Rules of Evidence mandates that an expert’s opinion must assist the trier of fact in making a factual determination to be admissible. The Court cited Daubert, stating that expert testimony not related to any issue in the case is not relevant and, therefore, not helpful. The Court emphasized that for expert testimony to be considered helpful, it must go beyond the lay jurors’ common knowledge. In its Reply, the Plaintiff argued that “Namias’ purported opinion is unsubstantiated and unspecific,” rendering it unhelpful to the trier of fact. However, the Court concluded that Namias’ opinion would, at a minimum, assist the jury in evaluating the flight attendant’s treatment of the burn and the resulting scarring, as the treatment of burns falls outside the realm of lay jurors’ common knowledge.

Buonomo asserted that the “incompleteness” of the expert’s analysis posed a risk of misleading the jury and prejudicing the Plaintiff. The argument contended that Namias’ analysis lacked a reliable foundation and was not based on the facts of the case. In response, the Defendant characterized this argument as “boilerplate” and a mere “repackaging” of the Plaintiff’s objections to the expert’s methodology.

A district Court had the authority to exclude relevant evidence under Rule 403 if its probative value was significantly outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury. The Court was advised to exercise this authority cautiously, sparingly invoking Rule 403 as an extraordinary remedy. The general guideline was to favor admissibility, as Rule 403’s primary purpose was to exclude evidence with minimal or cumulative probative force, introduced solely for its prejudicial impact. Buonomo did not succeed in demonstrating how the probative value of Namias’ analysis was significantly outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice or confusion of the issues. The Court had previously determined that the expert was experienced, reliable, and grounded his analysis in the facts of the case. As a result, Rule 403’s designation as an “extraordinary remedy” was deemed inapplicable in this instance.


The Court denied both parties’ Daubert motions to strike expert testimony. The Court found Plaintiff’s expert Kathleen Lord-Jones and Defendant’s expert Nicholas Namias were qualified to give opinions based on their respective experience. Their methodologies were sufficiently reliable and their testimony would assist the jury. The Court has not arrived on an outcome for this case since the remaining issues involved in this case still await resolution.

Key Takeaways

The Court evaluated challenges to expert testimony in a case involving a spill incident on a JetBlue flight, resulting in the Plaintiff sustaining burns. The Plaintiff’s expert, Kathleen Lord-Jones, faced objections from JetBlue, while the Defendant’s expert, Nicholas Namias, was contested by the Plaintiff. Lord-Jones offered opinions on the flight attendant’s actions, adherence to safety practices, and burn treatment protocols. The Court affirmed Lord-Jones’s qualifications, acknowledging her extensive experience, and deemed her simulation experiment reliable, emphasizing her practical expertise. Namias, an expert in burn treatment, faced challenges related to his qualifications and methodology. The Court upheld Namias’ qualifications, noting his significant experience. Despite the lack of detailed methodology in his report, the Court inferred a reliable approach based on his extensive experience. Namias’ opinion on the reasonableness of medical care was considered admissible, and objections were viewed as matters of weight, not admissibility. Overall, the Court highlighted the importance of experience in assessing expert testimony and emphasized the admissibility of nonscientific expert opinions that assist the trier of fact.


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