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Sweeten v. Layson's Home Improvements

April 19, 2007

JEREMY SWEETEN AND CHRISTINE SWEETEN, PLAINTIFFS
v.
LAYSON'S HOME IMPROVEMENTS, INC., DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the court are the motions in limine (Docs. 67, 68, 69), filed by defendant Layson's Home Improvements, Inc. ("Layson's"), to preclude plaintiffs from offering evidence regarding: (1) the inspection report prepared by Peter Schilling from Commonwealth Code Inspection Service, Inc. on January 21, 2002 (hereinafter "the Schilling report"); (2) the expert report prepared by James C. Druecker on June 27, 2005 (hereinafter "the Druecker report"); and (3) plaintiff Jeremy Sweeten's loss of wages. For the reasons that follow, the motions will be denied.

I. Factual Background

On December 31, 2002, plaintiff Jeremy Sweeten ("Jeremy") was moving furniture into the home of his aunt, Ann LeFevre ("LeFevre"). (Doc. 44 ¶ 1; Doc. 53 ¶ 1.) Jeremy and his father, Gerald Sweeten ("Gerald"), were carrying a bookcase down a newly-renovated stairway into LeFevre's basement when Jeremy lost his footing and fell down the stairway. (Doc. 44 ¶¶ 2-3; Doc. 53 ¶¶ 2-3.) The bookcase fell on top of Jeremy, and he suffered a broken arm and a forehead laceration.

(Doc. 44 ¶¶ 3-4; Doc. 53 ¶¶ 3-4; Doc. 1 ¶ 13.) Prior to Jeremy's accident, Layson's had replaced the stair treads on LeFevre's basement stairway. (Doc. 44 ¶ 6; Doc. 53 ¶ 6.) Jeremy now argues that his accident was caused by "a faulty stair tread" that Layson's had negligently installed or inspected. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 8, 11.)

II. Discussion

A. The Schilling Report

Less than one month after Jeremy's accident, Peter Schilling of Commonwealth Code Inspection Service, Inc. issued a final inspection report concerning the renovations conducted by Layson's. (Doc. 42, Ex. C.) The Schilling report notes several defects in the stairway's construction, including problems with the stair treads and the handrail. (Id.) Layson's argues that all testimony regarding the Schilling report should be excluded as irrelevant because the report "fails to derive any connection between the condition of the stairs and the incident in question." (Doc. 70 at 4.) Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, "[a]ll relevant evidence is admissible." FED. R. EVID. 402. Rule 401 provides that:

"Relevant evidence" means evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.

FED. R. EVID. 401 (emphasis added). In the instant case, the court finds that the Schilling report meets the liberal standard for relevance set forth in Rule 401. See Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 587 (1993) (stating that Rule 401's "basic standard of relevance . . . is a liberal one"). Because the Schilling report addresses the issue of whether the stairway complied with construction code requirements, the report has a tendency to prove whether Layson's construction of the stairway contributed to Jeremy's accident. See Blancha v. Raymark Indus., 972 F.2d 507, 514 (3d Cir. 1992) (stating that determination of relevancy requires a court to determine the "relation between an item of evidence and a matter properly provable in the case").

Layson's also argues that the Schilling report should be excluded under Federal Rule of Evidence 702 because the report does not provide an explanation of the principles and methods upon which its findings were based. (Doc. 70 at 4.) Rule 702 provides, in pertinent part, that:

[A] witness qualified as an expert . . . may testify . . . 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 ...


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