Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
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.

Donegal Mutual Insurance Company A/S/O Vanessa Schantz v. Electrolux North America

July 24, 2012

DONEGAL MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY A/S/O VANESSA SCHANTZ, PLAINTIFF
v.
ELECTROLUX NORTH AMERICA, DEFENDANT



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

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court are: (1) Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration of the Court's December 22, 2010 memorandum and order granting in part Defendant's motion to exclude the expert opinion testimony of Michael R. Stoddard pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993) (Doc. No. 96); and (2) Plaintiff's motion to submit additional evidence in support of the opinions of Mr. Stoddard (Doc. No. 116). In its motion for reconsideration, Plaintiff requests that the Court alter or amend its order so as to permit Plaintiff's expert to present opinion testimony that the design of the dryer at issue was defective. (Doc. No. 97 at 14.) At a hearing on Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration, Plaintiff offered for the first time the testimony of its proffered expert. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration. The Court will allow Plaintiff to supplement its expert disclosure prior to trial, but will deny as moot Plaintiff's motion to present new evidence to the extent that Plaintiff seeks to present new evidence at a Daubert hearing.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Donegal Mutual Insurance Company instituted this subrogation action against Defendant Electrolux Home Products in relation to a fire that occurred on November 12, 2006, involving a dryer manufactured by Defendant. Plaintiff has asserted causes of action sounding in negligence, strict liability, and breach of contract. Plaintiff alleges that the electric clothes dryer manufactured by Defendant was defective and caused a fire in the home of its insured, Vanessa Schantz. Specifically, Plaintiff's expert, Michael Stoddard, offered the following two opinions with respect to the dryer: (1) that the dryer is defective because its bearing assembly does not fail safe and fails into a fire-causing condition; and (2) that the dryer is defective because lint accumulates near the heat source, allowing the lint to serve as either a first fuel or an accelerating fuel in the development and spread of fire.

On June 29, 2010, Defendant filed a motion to exclude Mr. Stoddard's opinions. (Doc. No. 81.) On December 22, 2010, the Court issued an order, granting Defendant's motion in part. (Doc. No. 95.) First, the Court held that Mr. Stoddard's bearing-failure opinion -- that the dryer's design allowed the dryer to fall into a fire-causing condition when the bearing assembly failed -- satisfied the Daubert standard, and the Court denied the motion to exclude Mr. Stoddard's testimony on this point. However, applying Daubert to Stoddard's opinion that the bearing assembly failed due to a design defect, the Court rejected his opinion based on Stoddard's qualifications and granted Defendant's motion in part. (Id. at 13.) With respect to his lint-accumulation opinion, the Court held that Mr. Stoddard could opine that lint may have served as a first fuel in the fire, but that he could not offer an opinion that the dryer defectively allowed lint to accumulate, because his methodology in reaching that opinion was not reliable. (Id.)

Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration of the Court's December 22, 2010 memorandum and order is now before the Court. (Doc. No. 96.) Plaintiff raises two principal challenges to the Court's prior order. First, Plaintiff did not proffer a witness at the oral argument held on Defendant's motion to exclude Stoddard's expert testimony. Thus, Plaintiff challenges the Court's prior ruling because no opportunity to present evidence was provided. Plaintiff also argues that the Court's ruling is inconsistent with a ruling on another lint-accumulation case issued on the very same day. (Doc. No. 97 at 4.) Plaintiff's challenge to the Court's ruling is narrow and relates only to the Court's ruling that Mr. Stoddard reached his opinion that the dryer defectively allowed lint to accumulate by using an unreliable methodology. Plaintiff does not challenge the Court's ruling that Mr. Stoddard is not qualified to offer an opinion that the bearing in the dryer at issue failed due to a defective design, or that he is not qualified to offer an opinion as to the adequacy of the warnings associated with the dryer.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion for reconsideration is a device of limited utility. Its purpose is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence. Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985). Accordingly, a party seeking reconsideration must demonstrate at least one of the following grounds prior to the court altering, or amending, a standing judgment: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court entered judgment; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice. Max's Seafood Cafe v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999). A motion for reconsideration is appropriate in instances where the court has "patently misunderstood a party, or has made a decision outside the adversarial issues presented to the Court by the parties, or has made an error not of reasoning but of apprehension." Rohrbach v. AT&T Nassau Metals Corp., 902 F. Supp. 523, 527 (M.D. Pa. 1995), vacated in part on other grounds on reconsideration, 915 F. Supp. 712 (M.D. Pa. 1996) (citation omitted).

It may not be used as a means to argue new facts or issues that were not presented to the court in the context of the matter previously decided. Drysdale v. Woerth, 153 F. Supp. 2d 678, 682-83 (E.D. Pa. 2001). "Because federal courts have a strong interest in the finality of judgments, motions for reconsideration should be granted sparingly." Cont'l Cas. Co. v. Diversified Indus., Inc., 884 F. Supp. 937, 943 (E.D. Pa. 1995).

III. DISCUSSION

The Court's December 22, 2010 memorandum discussed at length the familiar three-step Daubert inquiry related to qualifications, reliability, and fit. Because Plaintiff asks the Court to reconsider its application of Daubert only as it applies to part of Mr. Stoddard's proffered opinion, the Court will only briefly summarize its holding and the bases for it. First, the Court held that Mr. Stoddard has sufficient experience in examining dryers and fire investigation to opine that the design of the dryer at issue allowed it to fall into a fire hazard condition when the bearing assembly failed, that the bearing assembly failure was the source of the fire, and that lint or the load of clothing served as fuel for the fire. (Doc. No. 95 at 7.) However, the Court held that Mr. Stoddard was not sufficiently qualified to offer an opinion as to why the bearing assembly failed, because Plaintiff did not establish that Mr. Stoddard had sufficient academic training or on-the-job experience relevant to that opinion. (Id.) Furthermore, the Court held that Mr. Stoddard was not qualified to give his opinion as to the adequacy of the warnings associated with the dryer. (Id.) The Court further held that although Mr. Stoddard could offer an opinion that lint or clothing served as a first fuel in the fire, Mr. Stoddard's opinion that the dryer defectively allowed lint to accumulate was not based on a reliable methodology. (Id. at 12.) The Court noted that at oral argument on the motion to exclude, counsel for Plaintiff conceded that Mr. Stoddard did not "know whether lint for certain was the first thing that ignited. It was either lint, the clothing inside the drum, or a combination thereof." (Id. (quoting Hearing Tr., Sept. 27, 2010, at 7).)

Plaintiff seeks reconsideration of the Court's holding that Mr. Stoddard's lint-accumulation opinion was not based on a reliable methodology, arguing that the Court's holding that Mr. Stoddard employed an unreliable methodology in reaching his opinion as to the dryer's lint accumulation is inconsistent with the Court's holding in Rager v. General Electric Co., No. 1:08-cv-1482 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 22, 2010). Plaintiff argues that the "only discernable difference" between this Court's rulings in this case and in Rager is that a Daubert hearing was held in Rager.*fn1 (Doc. No. 97 at 10.) As noted above, Plaintiff failed to proffer any testimony at the hearing scheduled to address Defendant's challenge to Mr. Stoddard's testimony. In spite of Plaintiff's failure to offer evidence at the hearing on Defendant's Daubert motion, the Court allowed Plaintiff to make a record at a newly scheduled evidentiary hearing.

On November 2, 2011, the Court held a Daubert hearing, at which Plaintiff presented testimony from Mr. Stoddard. At the hearing, Mr. Stoddard testified about his qualifications, stating that he had earned a bachelor of science degree in fire science and investigation, an associate of science degree in criminal justice, certifications in the field of fire investigation from the National Association of Fire Investigators and the International Association of Arson Investigators, and that he had twelve-to-thirteen years of fire analysis and investigation experience. (Hearing Tr., Nov. 2, 2011, at 10-14.) Further, Mr. Stoddard testified about his tenure with Maytag Instrument Company, during which he assisted the engineering department in designing and assembling industrial inspection equipment. (Id. at 122:19-124:5.)

Mr. Stoddard also testified about the methodology that he used in reaching his opinions. With respect to his lint-accumulation opinion, Mr. Stoddard testified that he followed the methodology outlined in National Fire Protection Association Code Number 921 (NFPA 921). (Id. at 15:10-16:20.) Specifically, Mr. Stoddard testified that he developed a hypothesis that the dryer defectively allows lint to accumulate, examined lint accumulation in several exemplar dryers, performed tests on Electrolux dryers and other design alternatives to compare the lint accumulation, and concluded that the dryer in this case defectively allowed lint to accumulate near the heat source. (Id. at 99:22-100:22.) However, Mr. Stoddard also testified that he cannot determine whether lint or clothing was the first fuel in the dryer fire, and that the fire in this case did not result from an excessive buildup of lint, but from the failure of the bearing assembly that allowed the heating drum to detach and come into contact with the energized heating element during operation. ...


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.