Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Martinez v. Triad Controls

January 6, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kauffman, J.


Plaintiffs Fernando and Lucy Martinez brought this action against Defendants Triad Controls, Inc. ("Triad"); Ingersoll Rand, Ingersoll-Rand Canada, Inc., and Canada Machinery Corporation, Ltd. (collectively "Ingersoll-Rand");*fn1 Northern Machinery, Inc.; Francis A. Blake; and E.W. Bliss Company, alleging strict liability, negligence, and loss of consortium.*fn2 Now before the Court are the Motions for Summary Judgment of Defendants Triad and Ingersoll-Rand. For the reasons that follow, the Motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

This case arises out of a July 30, 2003 accident at Laneko Manufacturing ("Laneko") in Royersford, Pennsylvania that resulted in the amputation of several fingers on the right hand of Plaintiff Fernando Martinez. On that day, Plaintiff and a co-worker, Joshua Thumm ("Thumm"), were operating a CMC Bliss 300 ton mechanical power press (the "press") to form metal parts for the automobile industry. The press was equipped with two sets of die, which allowed two different metal parts to be formed at the same time. The press was operated using controls called "palm buttons." Palm buttons are point of operation safety devices that require a worker to have both hands on the buttons (rather than in the press) before the press's ram will descend.*fn3 Each set of palm buttons is designed to protect both hands of one worker. The press at issue was designed to accept two sets of palm buttons, thereby ensuring that both members of the two-man team had their hands clear of the press. However, at the time of the accident, a "dummy plug" was being used in place of one of the sets of palm buttons, so that the press could operate with only one set of buttons.

In addition, the press was equipped with another pair of point of operation safety devices, two Triad Super Light VI light curtains (the "light curtains"). The light curtains were mounted on the front and back of the press, and used a set of invisible infrared light beams to detect when the work area around the press was penetrated. If the light curtains were penetrated, they were designed to send a signal to the press to prevent it from operating.*fn4 The vertical position of the light curtains was adjustable, but was supposed to be mounted so that no gaps existed in the curtains' coverage.

On the day of the accident, Plaintiff and Thumm stood side-by-side on wooden pallets in front of the press as they worked. Plaintiff's role was to place a partially-formed metal piece into the die in front of him. At the same time, Thumm would take a piece that already had been stamped by Plaintiff's die and move it into the second die on the press. After the two pieces of metal were positioned, both men would step behind the light curtains, and Thumm would depress the set of palm buttons operating the press.*fn5

Prior to the accident, Plaintiff and Thumm had pressed approximately 200 metal pieces, and both the press and light curtains had been functioning properly. Plaintiff was injured when the ram descended on his right hand while it was in the press area. Immediately following the accident, which occurred at approximately 11:45 a.m., local police arrived on the scene to conduct an accident investigation. Several Laneko employees testified that when the police tested the light curtains and palm buttons, they were found to be operational. See Deposition of James McGough ("McGough Dep.") at 31--32, attached to Ingersoll-Rand Mot. at Ex. E and Triad Mot. at Ex. H; Deposition of Ronald Paden ("Paden Dep.") at 51--52, attached to Ingersoll-Rand Mot. at Ex. C and Triad Mot. at Ex. B; Deposition of David Hoffman ("Hoffman Dep.") at 25--26, attached to Ingersoll-Rand Mot. at Ex. J and Triad Mot. at Ex. K.

Plaintiffs filed the instant action in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, and it was removed to this Court on August 26, 2005. In the Complaint, Plaintiffs assert claims of negligence and strict liability against several parties, as well as a claim for loss of consortium. The instant Motions concern the strict liability claims against Ingersoll-Rand, as manufacturer of the press, and Triad, as manufacturer of the light curtains.

II. Legal Standard

In deciding a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, the test is "whether there is a genuine issue of material fact and, if not, whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Med. Protective Co. v. Watkins, 198 F.3d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Armbruster v. Unisys Corp., 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 1994)). "[S]ummary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is 'genuine,' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Court must examine the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and resolve all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).However, "there can be 'no genuine issue as to any material fact' . . . [where the non-moving party's] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of [its] case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).

The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing the basis for its motion. See Shields v. Zuccarini, 254 F.3d 476, 481 (3d Cir. 2001). If the movant meets that burden, the onus then "shifts to the non-moving party to set forth specific facts showing the existence of [a genuine issue of material fact] for trial." Id.

III. Expert Witness L.D. Ryan, Ph.D.

Ingersoll-Rand argues that the opinions of Plaintiffs' expert witness, mechanical engineer L.D. Ryan ("Dr. Ryan"), should be excluded pursuant to Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), because they are unreliable, are based on insufficient facts and data, have not been scientifically tested, and rely on intuition and speculation.*fn6 See Ingersoll-Rand Mot. at 7. Triad makes similar arguments in its Motion, asserting that Dr. Ryan lacks expertise with light curtains and that his methodology is not based in science and cannot be tested. See Triad Mot. at 27--32. Plaintiffs respond that Dr. Ryan's professional education and training, practical experience, and academic experience fulfill the qualification standards under Daubert and that his methodology and opinions meet the Daubert reliability standard. See Resp. to Ingersoll-Rand Mot. at 8--21; Resp. to Triad Mot. at 18--29.

If Dr. Ryan's expert testimony were excluded, Ingersoll-Rand and Triad argue that summary judgment must be granted in their favor on the strict liability claims. The Third Circuit has held that expert testimony generally is required in a case where a design defect is alleged. See Oddi v. Ford Motor Co., 234 F.3d 136, 159 (3d Cir. 2000); see also Booth v. Black & Decker, Inc., 166 F. Supp. 2d 215, 222 (E.D. Pa. 2001). While there may be some instances in which a defective condition can be established through non-expert evidence, that is not the case when the inner-workings of a machine are unfamiliar to the public at large. See Oddi 234 F.3d at 159.

A. Experience of Dr. Ryan

Dr. Ryan has Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in mechanical engineering and a Doctorate in agricultural engineering. See L.D. Ryan's Curriculum Vitae, attached to Plaintiffs' Index of Exhibits ("Pls.' Index") at Ex. B, App'x O.*fn7 He has over twenty years of experience teaching mechanical engineering at the collegiate level, and he is a licensed engineer in multiple states. See id. He also has many years of experience as a machine designer and product developer, and is an accident reconstructionist. See id.; Deposition of J.D. Ryan ("Ryan Dep.") at 21, attached to Ingersoll-Rand Mot. at Ex. L and Triad Mot. at Ex. C.

Dr. Ryan has experience manufacturing power presses such as the one at issue in this case and has taught courses in the design and use of power presses. See Ryan Dep. at 52, 177. He previously has been qualified to testify as an expert on power presses. See id. at 181. He has never designed or manufactured a light curtain, worked for a company that manufactured a light curtain, or installed a light curtain; however, he has been qualified as an expert to testify regarding light curtains in other litigation. See id. at 19--20. In addition, he has written a manual on safety warnings. See Warnings Manual, attached to Pls.' Index at Ex. C.

To prepare for the instant matter, Dr. Ryan conducted a site inspection of the accident area on November 17, 2005, approximately 27 months after the accident. See Ryan Dep. at 8. During the inspection, he made measurements, took pictures, shot video, and conducted testing during which he determined that the light curtain was not adjusted properly and that the lower lights on the curtain were not working at the time of his inspection. See Preliminary Engineering Opinions ("Ryan Rep."), attached to Pls.' Index at Ex. A. He also examined documents produced by Defendants and certain deposition testimony from this case. See Ryan Dep. at 27--28. In addition, he reviewed an extensive list of publications, including American National Standards Institute ("ANSI") standards and Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") regulations, publications on occupational safety, documentation on light curtains and other proposed alternate technologies, publications on product safety signs and labels, Bureau of Labor Statistics data, and publications on "human factors." See Preliminary Research Appendices, attached to Pls.' Index at Ex. B.

B. Legal Standard for the Admissibility of Experts

Federal Rule of Evidence 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.

In Daubert, the Supreme Court found that Rule 702 "clearly contemplates some degree of regulation of the subjects about which an expert may testify." 509 U.S. at 589. As a result, Daubert established a "gatekeeping role for the [trial] judge." Id. at 597.

The trial judge must determine at the outset, pursuant to Rule 104(a), whether the expert is proposing to testify to (1) scientific knowledge that (2) will assist the trier of fact to understand or determine a fact in issue. This entails a preliminary assessment of whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is scientifically valid and of whether that reasoning or methodology properly can be applied to the facts in issue.

Id. at 592--93.*fn8 In applying Daubert, the Third Circuit has found that Rule 702 "embodies three distinct substantive restrictions on the admission of expert testimony: qualifications, reliability, and fit." Elcock v. Kmart Corp., 233 F.3d 734, 741 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing In re Paoli R.R. Yard PCB Litig., 35 F.3d 717, 741--43 (3d Cir. 1994)).

The Court must decide whether an expert is qualified by examining his or her specialized knowledge with respect to the proposed area of testimony. See Fed. R. Evid. 702. The Third Circuit has held that "a broad range of knowledge, skills, and training qualify an expert as such," and has "eschewed imposing overly rigorous requirements of expertise and . . . been satisfied with more generalized qualifications." In re Paoli, 35 F.3d at 741 (citations omitted). An expert's specialized knowledge can be based on "practical experience as well as academic training and credentials." Fisher v. Walsh Parts & Servs. Co., 277 F. Supp. 2d 496, ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.