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Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. v. National RV Holdings

March 28, 2007

NATIONWIDE MUTUAL INSURANCE CO., A/S/O JAMES BOYD & DESIREE BOYD, PLAINTIFFS
v.
NATIONAL RV HOLDINGS, INC., D/B/A NATIONAL RV, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane

MEMORANDUM

On July 2, 2004, a fire consumed a motor home belonging to James and Desiree Boyd, along with the Boyds' attached trailer and two Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Plaintiff, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. ("Nationwide"), as the Boyds' subrogee, filed this action to recover for the Boyds' losses and to seek relief for alleged breaches of express and implied warranties by Defendants National RV ("NRV") and Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. ("FCCC").

The key question in this litigation is straightforward: What caused the fire? Nationwide's theory is that defective exhaust tubing caused the fire. Defendants deny liability and the case is schedule for jury trial on April 2, 2007. Now before the Court are the parties' motions in limine seeking to exclude certain evidence, including the testimony of the parties' experts. The Court will consider each motion seriatim.

I. FCCC'S MOTION IN LIMINE (Doc. No. 177)

In its motion in limine, FCCC seeks the exclusion of the following: testimony by Nationwide's expert witnesses; evidence related to Nationwide's claims under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty -- Federal Trade Commission Improvement Act ("Magnuson-Moss"), Pub. L. No. 93-637, 88 Stat. 2183 (1975); evidence related to Nationwide's claims for attorney's fees; evidence of other incidents or lawsuits; and any evidence not produced during discovery. (Doc. No. 177.) For the reasons that follow, FCCC's motion will be denied.

A. Nationwide's Failure to Disclose Expert Witnesses' Information

FCCC first argues that Nationwide's expert witnesses should be excluded on the grounds that Nationwide failed to comply with initial expert disclosure requirements. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2)(B) provides that parties must disclose signed expert-witness reports, which must include, among other things, information related to the witness's conclusions, qualifications, compensation, and litigation history.*fn1

Nationwide recognizes that by failing to provide curricula vitae and complete, signed expert reports, it did not fully comply with Rule 26(a)(2). However, Nationwide claims that its failure was inadvertent and that it cured each deficiency shortly after the oversights were discovered.

FCCC argues that the oversights nevertheless warrant exclusion under Rule 37(c)(1), which provides that a Court may sanction a party who does not comply with Rule 26(a).*fn2

However, FCCC concedes that Nationwide "eventually produced the information required by Rule 26(a)(2)(B)" (Doc. No. 178, at 11; FCCC's Mem. in Support 5), and any other deficiencies have been cured through deposition testimony. Thus, although the Court appreciates that "a defendant should not be forced to go through such great lengths to have a plaintiff do what Rule 26 plainly and unequivocally requires" (id.), Nationwide's mistakes have been adequately and timely cured so that the Court finds that the exclusion of Nationwide's evidence would be unwarranted.

B. Mr. Mignogno's Expert Testimony

FCCC also seeks to exclude Nationwide's origin-and-cause expert witness, Dr. Mignogno, on the grounds that his testimony does not satisfy the evidentiary requirements set forth in Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993).*fn3 Rule 702 provides that:

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, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.

Fed. R. Evid. 702.

As the Third Circuit has explained, "Rule 702 embodies a trilogy of restrictions on expert testimony: qualification, reliability and fit." Schneider v. Fried, 320 F.3d 396, 404 (3d Cir. 2003). The rules impose an obligation on district court judges to act as "gatekeepers" to ensure that an expert witness's testimony meets those three threshold requirements before consideration by a jury. Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 147 (1999); Daubert, 509 U.S. at 597. In fulfilling its obligation as a gatekeeper, a court ...


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