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New Jersey Partner Obtains Appellate Victory in Products Liability Case

Cherry Hill partner Tobin A. Butler recently obtained dismissal on behalf of a fastener manufacturer client. This case involves an alleged defective bolt sold by our client and used in a micrograb device that is part of a flip-line kit causing Plaintiff to fall from the top of a barn.

In this case, Plaintiff was working on top of a barn located on his property in Southern New Jersey and was using a micrograb device that was part of a flip-line kit and contained a bolt sold by our client. Plaintiff alleged that the defective bolt broke and caused him to fall more than 35 feet from the top of the barn to the ground, resulting in serious injuries that required numerous surgeries.

Plaintiff filed suit, ultimately naming six Defendants in addition to our client, that either sold or manufactured items that were part of the kit. In discovery, Plaintiff presented a metallurgical and materials science expert to support the claim that the bolt in his flip-line kit was defective and that it was the cause of his fall. However, our attorney Tobey Butler and one other Defendant moved to strike the expert’s opinions as they did not meet the Daubert standard.

The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey determined that the expert’s opinions were unclear and unreliable due to his failure to define numerous terms, and provide measurable data and test results. The expert was subsequently excluded. All Defendants then filed for summary judgment and dismissal of the claims under the New Jersey Products Liability Act based, in part, on Plaintiff’s failure to  produce an expert opinion. The District Court granted the motions and dismissed the case and Plaintiff then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

The Appellate Court’s three-judge panel was asked to decide if an expert opinion was required and if the lower Court was acting within its discretion to exclude the expert, as well as to consider whether the resulting summary judgment was appropriate. The panel affirmed that under New Jersey law, Plaintiff’s claims required expert testimony due to the engineering and physics involved since this information is not considered common knowledge.

In April 2022, the Appellate Court agreed that Plaintiff’s claims required expert opinion and concluded that the lower Court was acting within its discretion to exclude the expert. It was also determined that the District Court had properly granted summary judgment on the New Jersey Products Liability Act claims as Plaintiff’s expert had been excluded, affirming the dismissal against Defendants.

Tobey handles products and premises liability, toxic tort litigation, professional malpractice and homeowner’s associations claims. He focuses his practice on commercial and personal defense litigation in state, federal and appellate courts.