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Mutual Benefit Insurance Co. v. Kaz, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 20, 2014

MUTUAL BENEFIT INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
KAZ, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

CHRISTOPHER C. CONNER, Chief District Judge.

This is a civil action filed by plaintiff Mutual Benefit Insurance Company ("MBIC"), as subrogee of Betty and Allen Miller, alleging strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty against defendant Kaz, Inc. ("Kaz"). MBIC seeks reimbursement of monies paid pursuant to an insurance policy issued to the Millers, whose house was damaged in a fire. MBIC alleges that Kaz designed, manufactured, distributed, and sold a vaporizer that caused the fire. Presently before the court is Kaz's motion (Doc. 12) in limine to exclude the testimony of one of MBIC's submitted experts, Randolph Marshall of Marshall Forensic, LLC. For the following reasons, the court will deny the motion.

I. Background

MBIC filed the instant action on October 22, 2012. Discovery closed on August 30, 2013. MBIC identified two experts, Barry Emig of Kufta Associates ("Emig"), and Randolph Marshall ("Marshall") of Marshall Forensic, LLC. Both experts visited the fire scene and participated in a subsequent evidence inspection. (Doc. 16 at 5). MBIC retained Emig as a general cause and origin expert. He concluded that the fire's point of origin was the living room, specifically at the power cord of the vaporizer manufactured by Kaz. (See Doc. 16-1, Ex. A at 4). Emig determined that the power cord failed and ignited the carpeting and other nearby combustibles. ( Id. at 11).

MBIC retained Marshall as an expert on electrical origin and cause. (Doc. 16-2, Ex. B at 9). Marshall concluded that the fire's point of origin was the power cord of the Kaz vaporizer. (Doc. 12-1, Ex. A at 8, Doc. 16-4, Ex. D at 9). Using the NFPA 921, a book published by the National Fire Protection Association, and specifically ยง 18.2.1, Marshall considered and eliminated all other possible causes for the failure of the cord and determined that the only possible cause was a manufacturing defect. (See, e.g., Doc. 12-2, Ex. B at 3; Doc. 16-3, Ex. C at 4).

MBIC filed the instant motion (Doc. 12) in limine, which asserts that, pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 702, Marshall's testimony, reports, and opinion should not be admitted at trial because his conclusions are not based upon sound methodology and technique. The court has reviewed copies of Marshall's initial engineering report, Marshall's engineering rebuttal report, Emig's report, and a copy of Marshall's deposition transcript. (See Docs. 12-1, 12-2, 12-3, Exs. A-C; Docs. 16-1, 16-2, 16-3, 16-4, Exs. A-D). The motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard

MBIC bears the burden of establishing the admissibility of Marshall's testimony, reports, and opinion by a preponderance of the evidence. See Burke v. TransAm Trucking, Inc. , 617 F.Supp.2d 327, 331 (M.D. Pa. 2009); see also In re Paoli R.R. Yard PCB Litig., 35 F.3d 717, 744-46 (3d Cir. 1994). Admissibility of expert testimony is a question of law governed by Federal Rule of Evidence 702. See Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc. , 509 U.S. 579, 588-89 (1993). The rule provides:

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if: (a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue; (b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data; (c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and (d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

FED. R. EVID. 702. According to the Third Circuit, Rule 702 sets forth three separate restrictions on the admission of expert testimony: qualification, reliability, and fit. Calhoun v. Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A. , 350 F.3d 316, 321 (3d Cir. 2003) (quoting Schneider v. Fried , 320 F.3d 396, 405 (3d Cir. 2003)). Rule 702 embraces a "liberal policy of admissibility, " pursuant to which it is preferable to admit any evidence that may assist the trier of fact. Pineda v. Ford Motor Co. , 520 F.3d 237, 243 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Kannankeril v. Terminix Int'l, Inc. , 128 F.3d 802, 806 (3d Cir. 1997)).

Kaz contests the "reliability" of Marshall's proposed testimony. Expert testimony is "reliable" when it is based upon sound methodology and technique. In re Paoli, 35 F.3d at 742. The touchstone is whether the expert's methodology is "sufficiently reliable so that it will aid the jury in reaching accurate results." Id . at 744 (internal quotation omitted). The standard for reliability is not high. Id . at 744 ("The grounds for the expert's opinion merely have to be good, they don't have to be perfect."). The court looks to several non-exhaustive factors to guide our reliability inquiry:

(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.

Pineda , 520 F.3d at 248 (citing Paoli , 35 ...


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