Not what you're
looking for? Try an advanced search.
Buy This Entire Record For
HAMILTON v. EMERSON ELECTRIC CO.
March 8, 2001
LARRY HAMILTON, PLAINTIFF
EMERSON ELECTRIC COMPANY, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: McCLURE, District Judge.
On December 22, 1999, plaintiff Larry Hamilton commenced this
products liability action with the filing of a complaint in the
Court of Common Pleas for Lycoming County. He alleged that he
sustained an injury to his left middle finger as a result of a
defective miter saw manufactured by defendant Emerson Electric
Company (Emerson). The action was removed to this court on
January 11, 2000.
Before the court is Emerson's motion for summary judgment.
Within the motion is a request that the court exclude Stephen A.
Wilcox, Ph.D. from testifying for Hamilton as an expert witness.
We will therefore treat Emerson's submission as two separate
motions — a motion to exclude the expert witness and a motion for
summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, we will grant
I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
Summary judgment is appropriate if the "pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with
the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter off law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) (emphasis
. . . [T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates
the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time
for discovery and upon motion, against a party who
fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the
existence of an element essential to that party's
case, and on which that party will bear the burden of
proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be `no
genuine issue as to any material fact,' since a
complete failure of proof concerning an essential
element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily
renders all other facts immaterial. The moving party
is `entitled to judgment as a matter of law' because
the nonnoving party has failed to make a sufficient
showing on an essential element of her case with
respect to which she has the burden of proof.
The moving party bears the initial responsibility of stating
the basis for its motions and identifying those portions of the
record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact. Id. at 323. It can discharge that burden by
"showing . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support
the nonmoving party's case."Id. at 325.
Issues of fact are genuine "only if a reasonable jury,
considering the evidence presented, could find for the non-moving
party." Childers v. Joseph, 842 F.2d 689, 693-94 (3d Cir. 1988)
(citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249
(1986)). Material facts are those which will affect the outcome
of the trial under governing law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The
court may not weigh the evidence or make credibility
determinations Boyle v. County of Allegheny, 139 Fi3d 386, 393
(3d Cir. 1998). In determining whether an. issue of material fact
exists, the court must consider all evidence and inferences drawn
therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Boyle, 139 F.3d at 393; White v. Westinghouse Electric Co.,
862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1938).
Once the moving party points to evidence demonstrating that no
issue of material fact exists, the non-moving party has the duty
to set forth specific facts showing that a genuine issue of
material fact exists and that a reasonable factfinder could rule
in its favor. Ridgewood Bd. of Educ. v. N.E., 172 F.3d 238, 252
(3d Cir. 1999) (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith
Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Groman v. Township of
Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 633 (3d Cir. 1995)). "Speculation and
conclusory allegations do not satisfy this duty." Ridgewood, 172
F.3d at 252 (citing Groman, 47 F.3d at 637). A party opposing a
notion for summary judgment may not merely deny the assertions
made by the movant, but must identify specific facts in the
record that would contradict the facts identified by the movant.
Childers v. Joseph, 842 F.2d 689, 694-95 (3d Cir. 1988); First
Nat'l Bank of Pa v. Lincoln Nat'l Life Insurance, 824 F.2d 277,
282 (3d Cir. 1987).
On July 10, 1999, Hamilton was at his residence operating a
Sears/Craftsman 10" compound miter saw, which is an electric saw
with a spinning blade mounted above a work table. Hamilton
purchased the saw in 1997. At some point during the operation of
the saw, Hamilton's hand came in contact with the saw's blade. As
a result, the top of his left middle finger was amputated.
In order to operate the miter saw, the operator must squeeze
and hold an on/off trigger switch. To stop the saw, the trigger
must be released. The saw contains a braking device designed to
stop the rotation of the blade within seconds after the operator
releases the trigger. Hamilton contends that the saw was
defective in that the brake malfunctioned and did not stop the
blade from rotating before his finger made contact with the
blade. Although Hamilton is not completely sure how his finger
was injured, the miter saw was examined twice after the accident
and the blade brake did not function properly.
Hamilton contends that the saw was defective because the brake
did not stop the blade from spinning. He claims that the saw was
defective in its manufacturing and/or design, and that Emerson
failed to warn users of the possibility that the saw would not
immediately stop. Although Hamilton alleges in his complaint that
the miter saw contained all three types of defects, he presents
no evidence of either a design defect or a failure-to-warn
defect. Our focus will therefore be on Hamilton's burden of
proving that the miter saw contained a manufacturing defect.
A. Relevant Products Liability Law.
In advancing a theory of strict product liability in
Pennsylvania, a plaintiff is required to prove (1) that the
product was defective; (2) that the defect existed when it left
the hands of the defendant; and (3) that the defect caused the
harm. Summers v. Giant Food Stores. Inc., 743 A.2d 498, 508 (
Pa. Super. 1999) (citing Riley v. Warren Manufacturing Inc.,
688 A.2d 221, 224 (Pa. Super. 1997)). "There are three different types of
defective conditions that can give rise to a strict liability
claim: design defect, manufacturing defect, and failure-to-warn
defect." Phillips v. A-Best Products Co., 665 A.2d 1167, 1170
A product contains a manufacturing defect "when the product
departs from its intended design even though all possible care
was exercised in the preparation and marketing of the product."
Restatement (Third) of Torts: Prod. Liab. § 2 (1997 Main
Hamilton proceeds under the malfunction theory of products
liability, which is methodically explained in the Pennsylvania
Superior Court case of Dansak v. Cameron Coca-Cola Botthng Co.,
Inc., 703 A.2d 489 (Pa. Super. 1997):
In certain cases of alleged manufacturing defects
. . . the plaintiff need not present direct evidence
of the defect. When proceeding on a malfunction
theory, a plaintiff may present a case-in-chief
evidencing the occurrence of a malfunction and
eliminating abnormal use or reasonable, secondary
causes for the malfunction. From this circumstantial
evidence, a jury may be permitted to infer that the
product was defective at the time of sale.
Id. at 495 (citing O'Neill v. Checker Motors Corp., 389
567 A.2d 680, 682 (Pa. Super. 1989)). "The malfunction theory . . . does
not relieve the burden of establishing a defect. However, the
malfunction itself is circumstantial evidence of a defective
condition." Id. at 496 (citing D'Antona v. Hampton Grinding Wheel
Co., Inc., 310 A.2d 307, 309 (Pa. Super. 1973)).
The Third Circuit has articulated that in order for plaintiff
to meet its burden under the malfunction theory, he must present
sufficient evidence: (1) that the product malfunctioned; (2) that
plaintiffs used the product as intended or reasonably expected by
the manufacturer; and (3) the absence of other reasonable
secondary causes. Altronics of Bethlehem, Inc. v. Repco, Inc.
957 F.2d 1102, 1105 (3d Cir. 1992).
A prima facie case under the malfunction theory does not
require expert testimony explaining how the product was defective
or how the defect arose from the manufacturer or seller. Dansak,
703 A.2d at 496. Even without articulating a specific defect, a
plaintiff may sustain his burden by producing circumstantial
evidence of the defect. Such circumstantial evidence may include:
(1) The malfunction of the product.
(2) Expert testimony as to a variety of possible
(3) The timing of the malfunction in relation to
when the plaintiff first obtained the product.
(4) Similar accidents involving the same product.
(5) Elimination of other possible causes of the
(6) Proof tending to establish that the accident does
not occur absent a manufacturing defect.
Id. (citing Litvin and McHugh, Pennsylvania Torts: Law and
Advocacy (1996) § 9.33).
[I]n plaintiff's case-in-chief, plaintiff [need not]
negate theoretically conceivable secondary cause for
the malfunction. Rather . . . the plaintiff fails to
establish a prima facie case only if the plaintiff
does not negate evidence of other reasonable,
secondary causes or abnormal use that is actually
introduced during the plaintiff's case-in-chief. In
other words, the plaintiff fails to establish a
prima facie case if, based upon his own proof, more
than one cause could account for the accident.
Dansak, 703 A.2d at 497 (quoting Schher v. Milwaukee Electrical
Tool Corp., 835 F. Supp. 839, 841 (E.D. Pa. 1993)) (emphasis
added). As such, "[s]ummary judgment is not warranted simply
because the defendant hypothesizes (or even presents evidence of)
reasonable secondary causes." Id. Thus, a plaintiff need not look
to actively "eliminate" the possibility of reasonable secondary
causes. He is me rely required to present a case-in-chief that
either contains no evidence of reasonable secondary causes or
negates any such evidence that was initially present.
B. Dr. Wilcox's Expert Testimony.
1. General Law of Expert Testimony.
In attempting to exclude Dr. Wilcox as an expert witness,
Hamilton challenges both his qualifications and the reliability
of his testimony. Federal Rule of Evidence 702 provides:
If scientific, technical, or other specialized
knowledge will assist the trier of fact to
understand the evidence or to determine a fact in
issue, a witness qualified as an expert by
knowledge, skill, experience, training, or
education, may testify thereto in the form of an
opinion or otherwise.
Pursuant to Rule 702, the trial judge should act as a
gatekeeper to make sure that all expert testimony or evidence is
both relevant and reliable. See Daubert v. Merrell Dow
Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 589 (1993); Kannankeril v.
Terminix Int'l, Inc., 128 F.3d 802, 806 (3d Cir. 1997). The
Daubert gatekeeping function applies not only to scientific
testimony, but to all expert testimony. Kuhmo Tire Co., Ltd. v.
Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 147 (1999). "[Rule 702] makes no
relevant distinction between `scientific' knowledge and
`technical' or `other specialized' knowledge. It makes clear that
any such knowledge may become the subject of expert testimony."
Rule 702 has three major requirements: (1) the proffered
witness must be an expert; (2) the expert must testify about
matters requiring scientific, technical, or specialized
knowledge; and (3) the expert's testimony must assist the trier
of fact. Kannankeril v. Terminix Int'l, Inc., 128 F.3d 802, 806
(3d Cir. 1997 (citing In re Paoli R.R. Yard PCB Litig.,
35 F.3d 717, 741-42 (3d Cir. 1994)).
2. Summary of the Testimony.
Dr. Wilcox's testimony is encompassed in a report to Hamilton's
attorney. Dr. Wilcox states that, in preparing the report, he
reviewed the depositions of Hamilton and defense witness ...