U.S. Court of Appeals Affirms Exclusion of Expert Testimony in Work Injury Lawsuit

Jeffrey Kopplin worked for Wisconsin Central Railroad. In January 2014, he was operating a train at the rail yard in Fond du Lac, Wis. In order to bring the train onto the right track, Kopplin had to get out of the train and “throw” a switch.

The weather that morning was severe, with below-freezing temperatures and high winds. Due to the weather, ice and snow had built up inside of the switch. Kopplin attempted to remove the buildup with a broom provided by the railroad, but he was unsuccessful. In attempting to remove the buildup of ice and snow, Kopplin injured his elbow.

A doctor diagnosed his injury with a medial and lateral epicondylitis. Kopplin took time off from work to receive treatment, including a pain-relief injection.

By April 2014, the injury had fully healed. In August, Kopplin’s pain re-emerged when he attempted to drive a riding lawnmower one-handed while holding his son. The re-emergence of his pain effectively ended his career with the railroad.

Kopplin then brought a lawsuit against Wisconsin Central under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA). Kopplin alleged that the railroad was responsible for the broken switch and the injury it allegedly caused him. Further, he claimed that the railroad company was negligent in allowing ice and snow to build up within the switch.

Kopplin provided only one causation expert who, during deposition, testified that he never investigated whether something other than Kopplin’s encounter with the railroad switch could have caused his initial injury.

The doctor also admitted that he did not investigate whether Kopplin’s later activities could have caused his renewed elbow pain in August. Kopplin’s attorneys later attached an affidavit in an attempt to bolster the testimony of the expert witness. Despite this affidavit, the U.S. District Court Judge found that the deposition testimony was not reliable under the Daubert framework.

As a consequence, Kopplin had no causation evidence. Without causation evidence, the district court granted summary judgment to the railroad. Kopplin appealed.

The appellate panel began by noting that, in the deposition testimony, Kopplin’s expert discussed treatment history and prognosis, but never explained how the switch actually caused Kopplin’s disability.

The appeals panel further noted that the expert witness had never considered each potential cause of Kopplin’s injury, which further undermined the reliability of his overall testimony by calling into question the validity of his methods. The court of appeals further found that the expert’s testimony was only marginally relevant, as he offered only a partial theory as to how Kopplin’s pain resurfaced in August. The panel determined that, as causation is a necessary element of a railroad worker’s lawsuit, the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting summary judgment to the railroad after striking Kopplin’s causation expert. Accordingly, the district court’s orders were affirmed.

Jeffrey A. Kopplin v. Wisconsin Central Limited d/b/a CN, No. 17-3602 (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, Feb. 1, 2019).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling worksite injury lawsuits, car accident lawsuits, forklift injury lawsuits, construction work injuries and product liability cases for individuals, families and loved ones who have been injured, harmed or killed by the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Burbank, Bedford Park, Maywood, Bridgeview, Oakbrook Terrace, Bensenville, Joliet, Bolingbrook, Romeoville, Winnetka, Glenview, Glencoe, Vernon Hills, Lake Zurich, Grayslake, Crystal Lake, Evanston, Harwood Heights, Franklin Park, Wood Dale, Chicago (Stockyards, Canaryville, Pilsen, Little Italy, West Loop, West Town, Ukrainian Village, Clybourn Corridor, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, Uptown, West Ridge, Riverdale, Lake Calumet, East Side, South Chicago), Robbins, Berwyn, Brookfield, Park Ridge and Tinley Park, Ill.

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