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McAndrew v. Garlock Equipment Co.

February 7, 2008

DOROTHY MCANDREW, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS THE ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF RAYMOND MCANDREW, PLAINTIFFS
v.
GARLOCK EQUIPMENT CO., BRAUNER EQUIPMENT COMPANY, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Vanaskie

MEMORANDUM

In a comprehensive opinion issued in this products liability action on March 6, 2007 (Dkt. Entry 101), this Court denied in large measure the summary judgment motion of Defendant Garlock Equipment Company, the producer of thin wall steel tubing of the type that is at issue in this litigation. In denying summary judgment on various claims advanced in this matter, this Court found that opinions expressed by Plaintiff's expert, Mark Sokalski, P.E., afforded sufficient competent evidence to create genuine disputes of material fact. This Court also noted, however, that Garlock had not moved to exclude Mr. Sokalski's opinions pursuant to Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), and Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999). (March 6, 2007 Memorandum Opinion Dkt. Entry 101 at 13.) Garlock has now moved for preclusion of Mr. Sokalski's opinions under Daubert and its progeny. (Dkt. Entry 128.) For the reasons that follow, Garlock's motion will be granted as to Mr. Sokalski's opinions that (a) the thin wall tubing at issue in this case was, in fact, a Garlock product; (b) the thin wall tubing had a manufacturing or design defect; and (c) appropriate warnings accompanying the product would have informed the user of the need to wear a protective face shield. Garlock's motion, however, will be denied with respect to the opinion that the product should have been accompanied by an appropriate warning concerning the potential explosion hazard posed by using external heat to remove hardened asphalt clogging the tubing.

I. BACKGROUND

Raymond McAndrew, an experienced employee of the Dunmore Roofing Company, was injured severely on April 20, 2001, while attempting to "thaw" or "melt out" solidified asphalt that was clogging a section of thin wall steel tubing that had been used to transport heated asphalt from the ground to a roof at a Proctor & Gamble facility in Mehoopany, Pennsylvania. Mr. McAndrew was applying heat to the metal tubing with a propane torch. The injuries occurred when a vapor or gas pocket inside the steel tubing to which he was applying heat exploded. Mr. McAndrew, who was standing about three feet from the tubing, sustained burns to his face and arms, along with injuries to his lungs.

Visual inspection of the tube revealed a rupture of 22.5 inches in length along a weld, starting at 27 inches from the end of the tubing. Mr. Sokalski has opined that the incident pipe ruptured because "it was not stress relieved and then failed prematurely at a weld related stress point." (Sokalski Report of October 13, 2005 at 14.)*fn1 Mr. Sokalski bases this opinion on hydrostatic testing he conducted on an exemplar of Garlock's thin wall steel tubing. The hydrostatic testing indicated that the exemplar withstood hydrostatic pressure of up to 5,830 psig before rupturing. (Id. at 11.) Estimating that the pressure within the incident pipe at the time of the explosion was substantially below 5,830 psig, Mr. Sokalski concluded that the thin wall tubing at issue "was not fully annealed*fn2 and failed prematurely along the seam weld." (Id.) Mr. Sokalski also opined that "Garlock failed to warn its users that an explosion potential exists and that appropriate personal protective equipment PPE, (full face-shield and full length fire resistant clothing) must be warn [sic] during the melt out." (Id. at 13.) These two opinions provide the support for Plaintiff's claims that Garlock was negligent and that its product was in a defective condition so as to support liability under § 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts and the implied warranty of merchantability. Garlock assails these opinions, contending that they cannot withstand a Daubert analysis.

II. DISCUSSION

"Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, it is the role of the trial judge to act as a 'gatekeeper' to ensure that any and all expert testimony or evidence is not only relevant, but also reliable." Kannankeril v. Terminix International, Inc, 128 F.3d 802, 806 (3d Cir. 1997). The Court's role as "gatekeeper" of expert opinions is governed by Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which 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, 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.

In addressing Garlock's summary judgment motion, this Court found that Mr. Sokalski possessed adequate qualifications to present competent expert evidence. (March 6, 2007 Memorandum Opinion Dkt. Entry 101, at 13-15.) This conclusion remains applicable with respect to Garlock's Daubert challenge. Although Mr. Sokalski has no experience in the commercial roofing industry and may not be familiar with the human factors discipline, the Rule 702 requirement that an expert have "specialized knowledge" is to be interpreted liberally, with the focus being on the expert's "'practical experience as well as academic training and credentials.'" Waldorf v. Shuta, 142 F.3d 601, 625 (3d Cir. 1998) (quoting Am. Tech. Res. v. United States, 893 F.2d 651, 656 (3d Cir. 1990). Although Mr. Sokalski's academic degree in chemical engineering may not be related directly to the subject of materials strength and mechanical engineering implicated by Mr. McAndrew's accident, he has extensive experience as a forensic engineer, with his work involving investigation of "gas, dust, and chemical explosions [and] over-pressurization explosions." (Sokalski Curriculum Vitae, included as Exhibit "B" to the Affidavit of Lauris Heyerdahl, Dkt. Entry 130-3.) Considered liberally, Mr. Sokalski's qualifications are sufficient to show that he has the requisite specialized knowledge to opine on the matters at issue here.

The dispositive issue as to each of Mr. Sokalski's opinions, therefore, is not whether he qualifies as an expert. Instead, the question is whether each opinion is "(1) . . . based on sufficient facts and data; (2) [the] product of a reliable methodology; and (3) demonstrate[s] a relevant connection between that methodology and the facts of the case." Jaasma v. Shell Oil Co., 412 F.3d 501, 513 (3d Cir. 2005).

A. Opinion on Product Identification

Garlock denies that the incident thin wall tubing was produced by it. In this regard, the incident tubing does not bear any identification marks or other indicia that it is Garlock's product. Most notably, the incident pipe does not have the distinctive green paint that Garlock uses on its product.

Plaintiff, however, has produced substantial circumstantial evidence that the product in question was manufactured by Garlock. In addition, Plaintiff seeks to have Mr. Sokalski opine that the incident pipe is indeed Garlock thin wall tubing. Mr. Sokalski's opinion is based upon his comparison of an exemplar of Garlock thin wall tubing with the incident pipe. Mr. Sokalski's product identification opinion, however, suffers from two fundamental defects.

First, his opinion does not appear to be based upon any scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge. He simply indicates that he found the dimensions and arrangements of control loops on the exemplar and incident tubing to be consistent. The jury will be able to make its own visual examination of the evidence presented, and its determination of this matter in issue ...


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