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Curry v. Royal Oak Enterprises, LLC

United States District Court, Third Circuit

June 24, 2013

LINDA CURRY, Plaintiff,
v.
ROYAL OAK ENTERPRISES, LLC, and THE BRINKMANN CORPORATION, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

DuBOIS, JAN E., J.

I. INTRODUCTION

This case arises out of injuries plaintiff Linda Curry suffered from a flash fire emanating from a smoker manufactured by defendant The Brinkman Corporation which contained charcoal briquettes and lighter fluid manufactured by defendant Royal Oak Enterprises, LLC. In her Complaint, plaintiff asserts against both defendants claims of inadequate warnings and instructions based on negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty. Plaintiff provided the expert report of William S. Gilman in support of those claims.

Presently before the Court are defendants’ motions to exclude the testimony of plaintiff’s expert and motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants each of defendants’ motions.

II. BACKGROUND[1]

Plaintiff claims she was injured by a flash fire from a smoker on May 25, 2009. (Compl. ¶ 22.) Before the accident, she read the instructions for the three products at issue: the smoker manufactured by defendant The Brinkman Corporation and the charcoal briquettes and lighter fluid manufactured by defendant Royal Oak Enterprises, LLC. (Defendant Royal Oak’s Statement of Material Facts (“SOMF”) ¶ 8.) She then claims that, after removing the bowl from the smoker, she placed charcoal briquettes in the bowl and applied lighter fluid to the briquettes. (SOUF ¶ 9.) Plaintiff then returned the bowl to the smoker, lit a newspaper with a match, and threw the lit newspaper into the bowl in the smoker. (SOUF ¶¶ 9, 10.) That allegedly caused a flash fire in the smoker, burning plaintiff’s face, head, and arms. (SOUF ¶ 10; Compl. ¶ 22.)

III. DAUBERT MOTIONS

A. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Evidence 702 provides as follows:

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.

The “pathmarking” Supreme Court cases interpreting Rule 702 are Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., 509 U.S. 579 (1993) and Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999). United States v. Mitchell, 365 F.3d 215, 234 (3d Cir. 2004). In Daubert, the Supreme Court held that “[f]aced with a proffer of expert scientific testimony . . . the trial judge must determine at the outset . . . 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.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592. In Kumho Tire, the Supreme Court made clear that the Daubert gatekeeping function extends beyond scientific testimony to testimony based on “technical” and “other specialized” knowledge. 526 U.S. at 141.

Under Daubert, courts must address a “trilogy of restrictions” before permitting the admission of expert testimony: qualification, reliability and fit. Schneider v. Fried, 320 F.3d 396, 404 (3d Cir. 2003); see also Elcock v. Kmart Corp., 233 F.3d 734, 741 (3d Cir. 2000). The party offering the expert must prove each of these requirements by a preponderance of the evidence. In re TMI Litig., 193 F.3d 613, 663 (3d Cir. 1999).

1. Qualification

To qualify as an expert, “Rule 702 requires the witness to have ‘specialized knowledge’ regarding the area of testimony.” Betterbox Commc’ns Ltd. v. BB Techs., Inc., 300 F.3d 325, 335 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Waldorf v. Shuta, 142 F.3d 601, 625 (3d Cir. 1998)). The Third Circuit has instructed courts to interpret the qualification requirement “liberally” and not to insist on a certain kind of degree or background when evaluating the qualifications of an expert. See Waldorf, 142 F.3d at 625. “The language of Rule 702 and the accompanying advisory committee notes make clear that various kinds of ‘knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, ’ qualify an expert as such.” In re Paoli R.R. Yard PCB Litig., 916 F.2d 829, 855 (3d Cir. 1990) (quoting Fed.R.Evid. 702) (“Paoli I”).

Moreover, “[t]his liberal policy of admissibility extends to the substantive as well as the formal qualifications of experts.” Pineda v. Ford Motor Co., 520 F.3d 237, 244 (3d Cir. 2008). Thus, “it is an abuse of discretion to exclude testimony simply because the trial court does not deem the proposed expert to be the best qualified or because the proposed expert does not have the specialization that the court considers most appropriate.” Id. (quoting Holbrook v. Lykes Bros. S.S. Co., 80 F.3d 777, 782 (3d Cir.1996)).

2. Reliability

The reliability requirement of Daubert “means that the expert’s opinion must be based on the ‘methods and procedures of science’ rather than on ‘subjective belief or unsupported speculation’; the expert must have ‘good grounds’ for his or her belief.” In re Paoli R.R. Yard PCB Litig., 35 F.3d 717, 742 (3d Cir. 1994) (“Paoli II”) (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 590). In Kumho Tire, the Supreme Court held that the Daubert test of reliability is “flexible” and that “the law grants a district court the same broad latitude when it decides how to determine reliability as it enjoys in respect to its ultimate reliability determination.” 526 U.S. at 141-42 (emphasis omitted). In determining whether the reliability requirement is met, courts examine the following factors where appropriate:

(1) whether a method consists of a testable hypothesis; (2) whether the method has been subject to peer review; (3) the known or potential rate of error; (4) the existence and maintenance of standards controlling the technique's operation; (5) whether the method is generally accepted; (6) the relationship of the technique to methods which have been established to be reliable; (7) the qualifications of the expert witness testifying based on the methodology; and (8) the non-judicial uses to which the method has been put.

Mitchell, 365 F.3d at 235 (citing Paoli II, 35 F.3d at 742 n.8). These factors are neither exhaustive nor applicable in every case. Kannankeril v. Terminix Int’l ...


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