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Plaintiff’s Expert Excluded and Summary Judgment in Favor of Defense Granted in Computer Injury Case

Casey v. Geek Squad
No. PWG-10-2268 (U.S. District Court for D. Md., November 10, 2011)

by Colleen K. O’Brien, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (

Here, the Court granted the Defendant’s Motion In Limine to exclude the Plaintiff’s expert witness and also granted summary judgment in favor of the Defendant on all grounds.

The action arose from repair services to Plaintiff’s computer by Defendant’s technicians, involving replacing and installing the computer’s CD drive, defragmenting the computer, and debugging a virus. After the repairs were made, Plaintiff brought the computer home, connected it, and began working. Approximately two hours later, when Plaintiff attempted to print a document, he realized that the computer tower was not connected to the printer. As he reached around the back of the computer tower to connect the printer, he received an electric shock. Plaintiff sued for negligence and breach of warranty. Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and a Motion In Limine to exclude Plaintiff’s expert, Clark Riley, Ph.D.

The expert, Dr. Riley, hypothesized that the electric shock sustained by the Plaintiff was caused by an intervening act of the Defendant and that, but for the work performed by Defendant’s technicians, Plaintiff would not have been injured. The Court noted that Dr. Riley failed to find any damage to the computer that could have caused the shock; made unsupported assumptions about the shock’s cause; and used an unreliable methodology in inspecting the computer, which only consisted of a twenty minute, offsite visual examination, without tools, while the computer was off and unplugged. Moreover, he failed to account for alternative hypotheses of the shock, such as the printer, the power cord, and the grounding outlets in Plaintiff’s home. Consequently, the Court found that the expert’s conclusions were unreliable, and that if given the opportunity to opine in the case, that the probative value of his opinions would be substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

The Court went on to conclude that the Plaintiff failed to establish causation. Rather than suggesting a “probability” that the expert’s hypothesis was correct, Plaintiff only suggested that it was “possible” that Defendant’s actions caused Plaintiff’s injury. This was insufficient to get the case to the jury.

Plaintiff also failed to establish res ipsa loquitur because he could not prove that the computer was in the exclusive control of the Defendant. In fact, at the time of the injury, the computer was installed in Plaintiff’s home, where the Defendant had no control over it. In addition, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur could not be invoked in a case, where, as here, expert testimony was required to resolve factual issues like computer services, functionality, repair, programming, electrical conduction and engineering.

Finally, Plaintiff’s breach of warranty claim also failed because the action involved a computer repair service, rather than a sale of goods. Therefore, the protections of the Uniform Commercial Code could not be invoked because they only apply to sales of goods. Even if the sale of the CD drive were to be considered, it was only incidental to the predominant purpose of the transaction, which was the computer repair service.