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Campbell v. Fawber

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 29, 2013


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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Callan Campbell, Plaintiff: Richard C. Angino, Angino & Rovner, P.C., Harrisburg, PA.

For Holly Fawber, Defendant: Patrick J. Gibbons, Ryan, Brown, Berger & Gibbons, P.C., Norristown, PA.

For General Motors Corporation, Defendant: Michael P. Kinkopf, PRO HAC VICE, Dennis P. Ziemba, Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC, Philadelphia, PA.


CHRISTOPHER C. CONNER, United States District Judge.

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Presently before the court in the above-captioned matter are two motions for partial summary judgment, filed by defendant Motors Liquidation Company GUC Trust (formerly known as General Motors Corporation, and hereinafter referred to as " GM" ) (Doc. 14), and plaintiff Callan Campbell (" Campbell" ) (Doc. 11), and a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 17) filed by GM. The motions have been fully briefed, and are ripe for disposition.

I. Background

A. The Automobile Accident

This matter arises out of a single vehicle car accident tat occurred on August 17,

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2004, in Wiconisco Township, Pennsylvania. Defendant Holly Fawber (" Fawber" ) was driving a 1996 GMC Jimmy sport utility vehicle, in which the plaintiff, Callan Campbell, was a passenger. At the time, Fawber and Campbell were 16 and 18 years old, respectively. Campbell was seated in the right front seat of the vehicle, and was wearing her seatbelt. Fawber, while making a lefthand turn from Pottsville Street onto Machamer Avenue, lost control of the vehicle. The Jimmy swerved and rolled in a driver-side leading fashion, meaning that the passenger's side rotated over the driver's side in the roll. The vehicle came to rest on its roof.

Campbell suffered catastrophic injuries as a result of the accident. Though the extent and precise nature of her injuries are disputed, the parties generally agree that Campbell suffered fractures of her C6 and C7 vertebrae, which damaged her spinal cord and rendered her quadriplegic.

B. The Bankruptcy Proceedings

Campbell commenced this action on August 31, 2005, by filing a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, alleging negligence against Fawber, and strict liability and negligence against GM. The matter remained exclusively in state court until June 1, 2009, when General Motors Corporation declared bankruptcy and commenced voluntary Chapter 11 filings in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, at which point all proceedings and judicial actions against GM were automatically stayed. See 11 U.S.C. § 362. On July 5, 2009, the Bankruptcy Court approved GM's asset sale motion. Upon consummation of the asset sale, GM changed its name to Motors Liquidation Company. The Bankruptcy Court established November 30, 2009, as the deadline for filing proofs of claim against Motors Liquidation Company, based upon pre-petition claims. See 11 U.S.C. § 502(b)(9). Campbell filed her proof of claim on October 26, 2009. On March 28, 2011, the Bankruptcy Court established the GUC Trust pursuant to the Motors Liquidation Company GUC Trust Agreement. Campbell's claim was then transferred to the GUC trust, making the GUC Trust GM's successor in this matter. On May 31, 2011, the Bankruptcy Court entered an order modifying the automatic stay under § 362. The Court lifted the stay to the extent necessary to allow this action to proceed to final judgment or settlement.

GM removed to federal court on June 27, 2011. See 28 U.S.C. § 1334(b) (granting district courts subject matter jurisdiction over cases " arising in or related to" bankruptcy proceedings). By order dated July 22, 2011, this court established filing deadlines for Campbell's amended expert reports, GM's expert reports, and Campbell's rebuttal reports, for depositions of all experts, and for filing dispositive motions.

II. Campbell's Expert Witnesses

GM has moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Campbell's expert witness testimony is inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 702. Rather than challenge the reliability of each expert's testimony in depth, GM bluntly asserts that all of their opinions are unreliable for lack of sufficient " testing." Accordingly, it is appropriate for the court to discuss at some length the processes and methodologies employed by four of Campbell's expert witnesses.

A. Dr. Michael Freeman

Campbell retained Dr. Michael Freeman to provide an opinion on whether, and to what degree, Campbell's cervical spine injuries

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were caused by the collapse of the Jimmy's roof. Dr. Freeman has a Ph.D. in public health, with a specialization in epidemiology, and an M.P.H. in epidemiology and biostatistics. (Freeman CV, Doc. 27-3 at 2). He serves currently as an affiliate professor of epidemiology at Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine, in the Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine. (Id.) Dr. Freeman teaches courses in forensic and trauma epidemiology, with a focus on motor vehicle crash injuries, to graduate medical ...

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