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National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, PA. v. Smith Tank & Steel, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

November 6, 2014

NATIONAL UNION FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY OF PITTSBURGH, PA, ET AL.,
v.
SMITH TANK & STEEL, INC

RULING ON SMITH TANK AND STEEL INC'S MOTION TO EXCLUDE EXPERT TESTIMONY OF ANTHONY RUDNICKI AND FERNANDO LORENZO

JOHN W. deGRAVELLES, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Smith Tank & Steel, Inc.'s Motion to Exclude Expert Testimony of Anthony Rudnicki and Fernando Lorenzo (Doc. 51). Oral argument was heard on October 22, 2014.

Considering the law, arguments of parties, and facts in the record, Defendant's motion to exclude is denied.

1. Background

Defendant Smith Tank and Steel, Inc. ("Smith") was hired by Plaintiff LBC of Baton Rouge, LLC ("LBC") to construct four steel carbon tanks, including an internal floating roof ("IFR") in each tank, at LBC's facility in Sunshine, Louisiana. After the tanks had been in service for approximately 2 years, the IFR in one of the tanks (Tank 100-3) sunk and was badly damaged.

The IFR is a large metal plate that is slightly smaller than the inner dimension of the tank in which it is built. It floats on the top of the product being stored in the tank. Its purpose is to minimize the level of vapor emissions from the tank.

LBC's insurer National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA. ("National Union") paid for the cost of repairs to the tank and for business interruption caused by the failure of the IFR. National Union alleges that it became conventionally and legally subrogated to the rights of its insured LBC, against Smith (Doc. 59, *2-3). This suit is by National Union for the recovery of the insurance proceeds National Union paid to LBC.

Plaintiffs' claim for reimbursement alleges that the failure of the IFR and the damages flowing from that failure were the result of Smith's failure to construct the IFR in a workmanlike manner that was free from defects. Further, plaintiffs claim that these defects in the IFR caused it to fail and cause the damages sued upon.

Smith's challenge to the testimony of National Union's experts Anthony Rudnicki and Fernando Lorenzo will be considered separately.

2. Standard to Be Applied

The role of the trial court is to serve as the gatekeeper for expert testimony by making the determination of whether the expert opinion is reliable. As the Fifth Circuit has held:

[W]hen expert testimony is offered, the trial judge must perform a screening function to ensure that the expert's opinion is reliable and relevant to the facts at issue in the case. See Daubert, 509 U.S. at 589, 113 S.Ct. at 2794-95. Daubert went on to make "general observations" intended to guide a district court's evaluation of scientific evidence. The nonexclusive list includes "whether [a theory or technique] can be (and has been) tested, " whether it "has been subjected to peer review and publication, " the "known or potential rate of error, " and the "existence and maintenance of standards controlling the technique's operation, " as well as "general acceptance." 509 U.S. at 593-594 , 113 S.Ct. at 2796-97. The Court summarized:
The inquiry envisioned by Rule 702 is, we emphasize, a flexible one. Its overarching subject is the scientific validity and thus the evidentiary relevance and reliability-of the principles that underlie a proposed submission. The focus, of course, must be solely on ...

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