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FEDOR v. FREIGHTLINER INC.

April 4, 2002

ANDREW FEDOR, PLAINTIFF,
V.
FREIGHTLINER, INC., ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, United States District Judge.

MEMORANDUM

On the date of the accident, March 9, 1998, Mr. Fedor was driving from Philadelphia to Boston. Approximately four hours into the trip, Mr. Fedor pulled off the interstate in Connecticut to inspect the truck. The design of the truck consists of three steps which the driver shall use to enter and exit the truck: (1) the cabin step, (2) the top ladder step, and (3) the bottom ladder step. The facts regarding Mr. Fedor's accident are disputed. According to plaintiff, while holding the door handle, he slipped off the top ladder step as he was attempting to step from the top step to the bottom ladder step and fell to the ground landing on both feet. See Fedor Dep., 9/27/99, at 7-9. Defendants, relying on somewhat ambiguous language from a later deposition of Mr. Fedor, argue that he was stepping from the cabin step to the top ladder step and was not using the door handle when he slipped.*fn2 Plaintiff claims that he slipped on fuel which had been spilled on the top step during the fueling of the truck. It is plaintiff's theory that the design of the truck's step system and the location of the fuel tank was defective and resulted in his fall which caused his injuries.

The parties conducted discovery and exchanged expert reports. Plaintiff now seeks to introduce the testimony of Dr. Stephen Wilcox and Mr. Glenn Frederick. Dr. Wilcox proposes to testify as to the defective design of the truck step system and the location of the fuel tank. The testimony of Mr. Frederick, challenged here, addresses the location of the fuel tank only. Presently before the court are two motions in limine filed by the defendants seeking to exclude, pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 702, the testimony of Dr. Wilcox's in its entirety and that of Mr. Frederick as it relates to the location of the truck's fuel port near the truck's steps. A hearing on the motions was held on January 24, 2002, and, thereafter, the parties submitted supplemental briefing on the issues of Dr. Wilcox's qualifications and methodology.

I. Defendants' Motion in Limine to Preclude the Testimony of Dr. Stephen Wilcox as to Design Defects in the Truck's Step Ladder System.

Defendants seek to exclude the entirety of Dr. Wilcox's testimony arguing that Dr. Wilcox shall not testify by way of opinion for the following reasons: one, Dr. Wilcox is not qualified to offer the opinions and, two, the opinions are not based on any discernable methodology.*fn3

A. Dr. Wilcox's Opinions

Dr. Wilcox submitted two reports containing six opinions on design defects in the step system and fuel tank on the truck operated by Mr. Fedor at the time of his accident. The opinions are as follows:

1. Surface friction. Dr. Wilcox's report states: "When I examined the step, the `upper punches,' which were the only real mechanism for providing surface friction, were considerably worn, thus eroding their ability to keep the foot from sliding." At his deposition, Dr. Wilcox testified regarding this opinion as follows:

Q. Is it your opinion that the, quote, upper punches, closed quote, are the only real mechanism providing surface friction?

A. Yes.

Q. What is the basis of that opinion?

A. My understanding of the geometry of the step.

Q. Did you attempt to measure surface friction?

A. No.

Q. Did you undertake any investigation of truck steps to determine surface friction?

A. No.

Wilcox Dep., 10/11/01, at 110.

Q. Would the condition, material and design of the shoes worn by Mr. Fedor have an effect on whether the boot would slide or not?

A. Yes.

Q. What is the basis for the opinion?

A. The law of physics.

Q. That's it?

A. Well, there may be other things. That's all that comes to mind at the moment.

Q. What law of physics are you talking about?

A. Well, its just basic physics. If we're talking about slipperiness, it's a relationship between two surfaces.

Id. at 112-13.

2. Radius of the step edge: "The fact that the edge was rounded further decreased the `purchase' offered by the step."*fn4 When asked about this opinion during his deposition, Dr. Wilcox testified:

Q. What was the radius?

A. About half an inch, something like that, I believe.

Q. Did you measure it?

A. No.

Id. at 116.

Q. If the step had a sharp edge, would Mr. Fedor have slipped?

A. I don't believe he would have, no.

Q. And what is the basis for ...


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