United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
ELIZABETH C. SNIDER, Individually and as Executrix of the Estate of DANIEL A. SNIDER, and LEE W. SNIDER, a minor, by his mother, ELIZABETH C. SNIDER Plaintiffs
STERLING AIRWAYS, INC., and CONTINENTAL MOTORS, INC., Defendants
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59, Defendant Continental Motors, Inc. filed
a Motion for New Trial and to Alter or Amend the Judgment
entered on February 21, 2017, following a jury verdict in
favor of Plaintiffs and against the moving defendant in the
amount of $2, 753, 048.49. After thorough review of the trial
record, this motion shall be largely denied for the reasons
set forth below.
that we have previously written numerous opinions outlining
the historical background of this case, at this time we shall
just briefly summarize the underlying facts relevant to the
motion presently before us. This lawsuit arose out of the
tragic death of Daniel Snider, a United States Forest Service
employee who was killed in the crash of a single-engine
aircraft on June 21, 2010 as it was approaching the William
T. Piper Memorial Airport in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. Mr.
Snider was killed, along with another Forest Service employee
and the pilot of the aircraft, as the result of the failure
of the plane's engine. That engine was manufactured by
Defendant Continental Motors, Inc. The aircraft, a 1973
Cessna T210L, was owned, operated and maintained by Defendant
Sterling Airways, Inc., of Hornell, New York.
gist of the Plaintiffs' complaint in this matter is that
the accident was caused by the negligence, gross negligence,
recklessness and/or strict liability on the part of the
defendants in the manufacture, maintenance, and/or operation
of the accident airplane, its engine and component parts.
This action was tried before the undersigned commencing on
January 23, 2017 and concluding on February 16, 2017, when
the jury rendered a verdict in favor of the Plaintiffs and
against Continental Motors only in the amount stated above.
Alleging a variety of reasons and errors in evidentiary
rulings and the admission and/or prohibition of evidence,
Continental now moves for a new trial and/or to alter or
amend the judgment entered on the jury's verdict.
Governing Motions Under Rule 59
language of Fed.R.Civ.P. 59 is fairly broad. Specifically, it
states, in relevant part:
Rule 59. New Trial; Altering or Amending a
(a) In General. (1) Grounds for New
Trial. The court may, on motion, grant a new trial on
all or some of the issues -and to any party - as follows:
(A) after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial
has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal
(B) after a nonjury trial, for any reason for which a
rehearing has heretofore been granted in a suit in equity in
(b) Time to File a Motion for a New Trial. A
motion for a new trial must be filed no later than 28 days
after the entry of judgment.
(d) New Trial on the Court's Initiative or for
Reasons Not in the Motion. No later than 28 days
after the entry of judgment, the court, on its own, may order
a new trial for any reason that would justify granting one on
a party's motion. After giving the parties notice and an
opportunity to be heard, the court may grant a timely motion
for a new trial for a reason not stated in the motion. In
either event, the court must specify the reasons in its
(e) Motion to Alter or Amend a Judgment. A
motion to alter or amend a judgment must be filed no later
than 28 days after the entry of the judgment.
trial may therefore be granted where there was substantial
error in the admission or exclusion of evidence; error in the
court's instructions to the jury; where the jury's
verdict was inadequate or excessive; or where the verdict is
against the weight of the evidence. Marder v. Conwed
Corp., 75 F.R.D. 48, 54 (E.D. Pa. 1977)(citing
Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Duncan, 311 U.S. 243,
61 S.Ct. 189, 85 L.Ed. 147 (1940) and 5A Moore's
Federal Practice P50.03 at 2334). A new trial may
also be granted where the evidence was legally insufficient
to go to the jury. Id.
general, the ordering of a new trial is committed to the
sound discretion of the district court. Bonjourno v.
Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corp., 752 F.2d 802, 812
(3d Cir. 1984). But, “[w]hile a court may grant a new
trial under Rule 59 ‘for any reason for which a new
trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in
federal court, ' it should do so only when ‘the
great weight of the evidence cuts against the verdict and a
miscarriage of justice would result if the verdict were to
stand, '” or where the verdict “shocks the
conscience.” Leonard v. Stemtech International,
Inc., 834 F.3d 376, 386 (3d Cir. 2016)(quoting Rule
59(a)(1)(A) and Springer v. Henry, 435 F.3d 268, 274
(3d Cir. 2006)); Chinniah v. East Pennsboro
Township, No. 14-3355, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 3659, *3,
602 Fed.Appx. 558, 559 (3d Cir. March 9, 2015)(quoting
Marra v. Philadelphia Housing Authority, 497 F.3d
286, 309, n. 18 (3d Cir. 2007)).
the court's “review of a jury's verdict is
limited to determining whether some evidence in the record
supports the jury's verdict, ” as “[a] jury
verdict will not be overturned unless the record is
critically deficient of that quantum of evidence from which a
jury could have rationally reached its verdict.”
LePage's, Inc. v. 3M, 324 F.3d 141, 146 (3d Cir.
2003); Swineford v. Snyder County, 15 F.3d 1258,
1265 (3d Cir. 1994). Further, “[a] district court's
power to grant a new trial is limited ‘to ensure that
it does not substitute its judgment of the facts for the
facts and the credibility of the witnesses for that of the
jury.'” Stemtech, supra, (quoting
Delli Santi v. CNA Insurance Cos., 88 F.3d 192, 201
(3d Cir. 1996)). Indeed, in reviewing a motion for a new
trial, the court is required to view the evidence in a light
most favorable to the non-moving party and draw every
reasonable and fair inference therefrom which supports the
jury's award. Frank C. Pollara Group, LLC v. Ocean
View Inv. Holding, LLC, 784 F.3d 177, 184 (3d Cir.
2015); Willmore v. Willmore, Civ. A. No. 95-0803,
1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5947, *9 - *10 (E.D. Pa. May 2, 1996);
Gans v. Gray, 612 F.Supp. 608, 622 (E.D. Pa. 1985).
Sufficiency of Evidence as to Material Hardness
Motors' first argument essentially mirrors one of the
arguments which it raised in its Renewed Motion for Entry of
Judgment in its Favor as a Matter of Law. That motion was
recently denied and the reasons therefor set forth in our
Memorandum and Order of June 28, 2017. Specifically, CMI here
re-asserts that the jury's verdict is against the great
weight of the evidence because the plaintiffs ostensibly
offered no evidence to prove that any alleged defect in
material hardness caused the accident aircraft's engine
to fail. Again, in light of the evidence presented at trial
by all of the parties, we respectfully disagree.
not at all unusual in negligence/product liability cases such
as this one, the jury here was tasked with assessing two
competing theories as to the underlying cause of the failure
of the No. 2 cylinder on the accident airplane's
engine. In essence, it was the plaintiffs'
theory that the No. 2 cylinder failed because of insufficient
“hardness” of the exhaust valve guide, whereas it
was Defendant CMI's belief that the breakdown was caused
by overheating of the cylinder as a consequence of Sterling
Airways' failure to follow the correct manuals and
maintenance directives and to install the correct rocker arms
and/or bushings at the time of the 2004 engine overhaul.
with their theory of the case, the plaintiffs presented the
testimony of several witnesses with expertise in metallurgy,
aircraft accident investigation, civil, materials, and
mechanical engineering and materials failure analysis, among
others. One of those witnesses, Colin Sommer, testified that
Part #636242, which was in the No. 2 cylinder at the time of
the accident and which is believed to have been the root
cause of the crash, is an exhaust valve guide bearing a
Continental part number. It was depicted by Continental as
one of their component parts and there is no indication
anywhere that it was ever made by anyone else. The exhaust
valve guides that were installed in the accident engine in
2004 were manufactured in December 2003 by Roderick Arms
& Tool, an FAA-approved supplier for Continental Motors
under its Quality System. (N.T. 1/25/17, 96-98; N.T. 2/8/17, 27).
Those guides did not bear a Roderick part number and in fact,
Roderick could not legally sell those parts to the public or
anyone other than Continental because that part is made only
for Continental. (N.T. 1/25/17, 108-109; Pl's Exhibits
239, 245, 253).
to Mr. Sommer, “[p]art of the design of that valve
guide from Continental is that it has to meet a certain
hardness requirement.” (N.T. 1/25/17, 137). That
specification is Rockwell B Hardness 75 to 90. (N.Y. 1/25/17,
138; N.T. 2/1/17, 140-143). In an effort to determine why the
valve guide wore in the manner in which it did, Mr. Sommer
and another of Plaintiffs' expert witnesses, William
Carden, in tandem with the McSwain Engineering laboratory
performed a series of Rockwell B hardness tests on the guides
on the first five cylinders on the accident aircraft's
engine. Those tests resulted in readings of 68 on the No. 1
guide, 71.6 on the No. 2 guide, 86.9 on the No. 3 guide, 68.4
for the No. 4 guide and 84.1 for the No. 5
guide. (N.T. 1/25/17, 139-140; 2/1/17, 145-156).
From these measurements, both Mr. Sommer and Mr. Carden
concluded that the Continentalexhaust valve guides were
out-of-compliance with its own hardness specification. (N.T.
1/26/17, 100, 155, 160-161; N.T. 2/2/17, 62-64).
addition, Mr. Sommer, Mr. Carden and one of CMI's
witnesses - Michael Ward, all testified that the cylinder
assemblies that were manufactured in December 2003 and
installed into the accident aircraft a few months later
during the overhaul, were made from a material called
Ni-Resist Type 1, which is a cast-iron alloy designed to
withstand operating temperatures well above 750 degrees on a
consistent basis and more often between 1000 and 1, 300
degrees. (N.T. 1/25/17, 141-142; N.T. 2/1/17, 138-139; N.T.
2/8/17, 19, 28, 200-205).
Continental's quality control system, it provides a form
“Certificate of Compliance” to its suppliers for
completion and inclusion with the shipments of all of the
product which it has ordered. (N.T. 2/8/17, 46-52; CMI
Exhibit 3347). In completing those compliance certificates,
the supplier is verifying that the parts which Continental
ordered and which it manufactured for Continental were
produced in accordance with CMI's specifications,
drawings etc. and that they are as they should be. (N.T.
2/8/17, 46). Upon receipt of shipments of valve guides from
Roderick and following its own inspection protocol as
outlined on its internal “Material Acceptance Data
(MAD) Sheet, ” CMI inspects a designated number of
random samplesfrom the various lots delivered to ensure
that the guides possess the required features and hardness
and are otherwise in compliance with its specifications.
(N.T. 1/26/17, 26-28; N.T. 2/8/17, 24-26, 36-44; Pl's
Exhibit 291). If any of the samples tested fail to meet
specifications, the entire lot is to be rejected and then set
aside for further screening. (N.T. 2/8/17, 39-40). (Pl's
Exhibits 294, 296, 297; CMI's Exhibits 3345, 3346, 3347,
3348; N.T.; N.T. 2/8/17, 26-28, 36-56).
trial however, Plaintiffs produced evidence that despite
these procedures, on several lots of exhaust valve guides
received from Roderick in April 2002, September 2003 and in
January 2004, the Continental inspectors accepted batches of
exhaust valve guides but either did not fill out the hardness
designation on the data sheets as required or, in one case,
approved the lot despite it having a hardness reading of
Rockwell B 73, rather than the required minimum of 75. (N.T.
1/26/17, 27-35; N.T. 2/8/17, 37-44, 53-56, 81-88; Pl's
Exhibits 294, 296, 297; CMI Exhibits 3345, 3346, 3347, 3348).
additionally adduced evidence that despite the fact that
Continental's specifications dictated that the Rockwell B
scale be used, it was not uncommon for its inspectors to
employ different hardness scales such as the HR 15 and HR 30
and then convert those readings to a Rockwell B reading.
(N.T. 2/1/17, 183-198; N.T. 2/8/17, 77-82).
reiterate, under the prescribed standards for overturning a
verdict or granting a new trial, we are charged with
reviewing the jury's verdict to ascertain whether there
is some evidence in the record to support it. In doing so
here, we find that the foregoing evidence is more than
sufficient to warrant a finding by the jury in this case that
the exhaust valve guide which was installed in the No. 2
cylinder did not satisfy the requisite hardness minimums set
by Defendant Continental itself.
the second prong, that is, whether Plaintiffs made a
sufficient showing that the subject accident was caused by
that inadequate hardness, we likewise find that adequate
evidence was produced to sustain the jury's conclusion
that it was.
Plaintiffs' expert witness Colin Sommer explained that
the purpose behind hardening is to increase wear resistance
and that exhaust valve guides in particular are subject to a
great deal of heat and wear - more so than intake valves.
(N.T. 1/26/17, 17-18, 87). He stated that his examination of
the accident aircraft's engine showed extensive damage in
that holes had been punched through the top of the crank case
in multiple locations, and that he observed cracking and
evidence of catastrophic failure from the engine's
external side. (N.T. 1/25/17, 126, 128). He said it was
obvious from his first look at the No. 2 cylinder, that there
had been a “major catastrophic destruction of the
Number 2 piston” and “[t]here [we]re some more
components of that piston that were all found in the bottom
of the oil pan and throughout the engine.” (N.T.
Sommer further testified:
“What the metallurgical examination showed was that
there was evidence of fatigue on this fracture, meaning that
as the valve was riding up and down inside the cylinder ...
the valve got crooked because of wear that was found between
the valve guide and the valve system. So as the valve gets
crooked, it starts to bang up against the valve seat, which
is the area where it seals, and eventually broke the head off
of that valve. Once the head broke off, it's rolling
around inside the cylinder while the piston is traveling up
and down inside there at 22 times per second. ... The inside
of the cylinder is all destroyed and beat up and damaged from
the pieces of the piston and also the head of the valve that
was rolling around inside there. So that resulted in a lot of
catastrophic destruction inside the engine. As one piston
becomes destroyed, the ... Number 2 connecting rod was very
heavily damaged, and actually was torn off of the crankshaft.
It beat into the side of the crankshaft. It punched a hole
into the side of the case. It broke the connecting rod bolt
So all the other damage that we saw was a result of the
destruction of the Number 2 piston. The destruction of the
Number 2 piston was the result of the failure of the Number 2
exhaust valve head, and the Number 2 exhaust valve head was a
failure of the Number 2 exhaust valve. The wear that had
occurred on that valve guide - sorry, caused the failure
which then cascaded to the destruction of the rest of the
(N.T. 1/25/17, 128-131). Finally, Mr. Sommer conclusively
attested: “My analysis revealed that we had a broken
guide because the guide was soft. The broken guide caused a
broken valve, which broke the engine.” (N.T. 1/26/17,
addition to Mr. Sommer's testimony, William Carden said
that he too observed two cracks in the Number 2 exhaust valve
guide from the top of the valve guide down into and along the
right hand side of the guide. He found these cracks to be
very flat rather than rough, demonstrating that the initial
fracture occurred and separated the top of the valve guide,
and then the valve guide began rubbing on top of itself or
hammering itself flat. (N.T. 2/1/17, 126-131). Mr. Carden
also saw fatigue striations in the course of his examination
of the No. 2 exhaust valve guide. These striations, which
appear as ridges or lines, are indicative of fatigue cracks
that propagate incrementally over a period of time. (N.T.
2/1/17, 135-137). Instead of breaking all at once in a sudden
failure like an overload event, a fatigue crack begins as a
tiny crack which results at lower loads but incrementally
grows and moves forward as material is repeatedly loaded and
unloaded generating the striations. Eventually, a break can
occur such as happened in this case where the valve guide
broke and rubbed on top of itself producing the flat areas
which were observed. (N.T. 2/1/17, 136-137).
Carden also testified that he took measurements of the
exhaust valve guides, including the inner diameters, in the
accident aircraft's engine using a coordinated measuring
machine and touch probe. (N.T. 2/1/17, 113-115, 121). He
found that the inner diameter of the No. 2 exhaust valve
guide was very large, especially at the opening into the
barrel but was much smaller at the top than it was at the
bottom and was much larger than the rest of them. He also
noted that there was quite a bit of wear on the bottom parts
of the valve guides. (N.T. 2/1/17, 121-123). In measuring the
diameter of the valve systems with handheld blade and laser
micrometers, Carden found that the clearance of the No. 2
exhaust valve guide was much larger than all of the others
and in fact, was some 10 times the maximum clearance of the
return to service clearance limits of 7/1000 of an inch on
the bottom of the guide, such that it was bell-shaped. (N.T.
2/1/17, 124-125). Like Mr. Sommer, Mr. Carden also testified
that it is a fundamental engineering concept that hardness
and wear are directly related. (N.T. 2/2/17, 22-23).
we noted in our June 28th Memorandum,
“additional evidence regarding the sequence of events
leading to the engine failure was provided by one of the
defense witnesses, Dr. John Morris, an expert in metallurgy,
material science and failure analysis.” As this witness
observed, everyone agreed as to what the sequence of events
leading to the failure was although they disagreed as to what
caused that sequence to commence. As the valves, which are
situated in the cylinders, open and close, they pass through
the valve guide. Dr. Morris explained that as the valves move
back and forth,
“there's always going to be some wear. In this
case, the wear became very severe rather quickly. As it
becomes severe, the valve becomes kind of loose in the valve
guide and that creates a much worse mechanical situation
because it's vibrating back and forth. When something
vibrates back and forth, it creates a cyclic load, which
tends to make materials fail in a phenomenon called fatigue.
What will happen is that under cyclic loads the ...