Camacho: Court Tosses Out Expert and $14 Million Verdict

In Whirlpool Corp. v. Camacho, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Camachos' expert witness evidence was legally insufficient to support the jury's verdict. The court reversed the jury's $14 million verdict and rendered judgment that the Camachos taking nothing. The Camachos bought a used electric Whirlpool Easy Clean clothes dryer and installed it in their trailer home. One night, Margarita Camacho smelled smoke and looked down her hallway saw "fire coming from the rear part of the dryer and from inside the dryer." The fire destroyed the trailer and killed her son, Joab, who was trapped in his bedroom.

At trial, the Camachos presented an expert who testified that the corrugated design of the dryer's lint transport was defectively designed. He opined that the corrugated tube allowed lint to hang up on the inside of the tube and clog it. The clogging caused lint to back up to the heating element, become inflamed, and then flow into the dryer tumbler. Whirlpool contested every inch of testimony, but the jury found in favor of the Camachos and awarded them $14 million.

Whirpool appealed the verdict, contesting the reliability of the Camachos' expert, and lost. The Texas Supreme Court granted Whirlpool's petition for review.

In two short paragraphs, the Court set out the standard of review for a legal sufficiency challenge regarding expert testimony:

Generally, rulings on objections as to admissibility of evidence, including whether expert testimony is reliable, are reviewed for abuse of discretion. [citations omitted] But a party may assert on appeal that unreliable scientific evidence or expert testimony is not only inadmissible, but also that its unreliability makes it legally insufficient to support a verdict.

Unlike review of a trial court's ruling as to admissibility of evidence where the ruling is reviewed for abuse of discretion, in a no-evidence review we independently consider whether the evidence at trial would enable reasonable and fair-minded jurors to reach the verdict. [citations omitted] Further, a no-evidence review encompasses the entire record, including contrary evidence tending to show the expert opinion is incompetent or unreliable.

The notable thing about the Court's opinion is its take on "contrary evidence tending to show the expert opinion is incompetent or unreliable." The Court parried the Camachos' expert with Whirlpool's own expert testimony and testing without ever discussing why it considered Whirlpool's evidence reliable when it was arguably rejected by the jury. The Court decided that because the plaintiffs' expert didn't explain certain facts about his conclusions, didn't perform any tests (the court cited the lack of testing as a factor showing unreliability), and the fact that his opinion was developed for the case, his testimony wasn't entitled to any probative weight.

A copy of the case can be had here - Whirlpool v. Camacho.