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Dixon v. Home Depot U.S.A.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

May 13, 2015

DANIEL L. DIXON
v.
HOME DEPOT U.S.A., ET AL

RULING

ROBERT G. JAMES, District Judge.

This is a products liability case bought by Plaintiff Daniel Dixon ("Dixon") pursuant to the Louisiana Products Liability Act (the "LPLA") against the Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. ("Home Depot"), Ryobi Technologies, Inc. ("Ryobi"), One World Technologies, Inc. ("One World"), and Techtronic Industries Co., Ltd. ("Techtronic") (hereafter collectively referred to as "Defendants").

Pending before the Court are Defendants' Motion in Limine to Exclude Experts Darry Robert Holt ("Holt") and Dr. Stephen Gass ("Dr. Gass.") [Doc. No. 75], Defendants' Motion in Limine to exclude Dr. Gass's prior trial testimony [Doc. No. 99], and Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 76].

For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion in Limine to exclude Holt and Dr. Gass is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The Motion in Limine to exclude Dr. Gass's prior trial testimony is GRANTED. The Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On January 7, 2011, Dixon was injured while operating a table saw, model BTS 12S ("the saw" or the "BTS 12S"), manufactured by Ryobi. Dixon purchased the saw from the Home Depot in Monroe, Louisiana, in September 2009 for approximately $150.00.

It is not entirely clear whether a "kickback" caused Dixon's injuries. A "kickback" occurs when the rear quadrant of the spinning saw blade catches the workpiece and either violently throws it back towards the front of the saw or lifts the workpiece vertically. During a kickback, the operator's hand often follows its current trajectory and is pulled into the saw blade. The Consumer Protection Safety Comission ("CPSC"), the governmental entity charged with overseeing table saw safety, estimates that table saws caused approximately 30, 000 injuries in 2008.[1] [Doc. No. 81, Exh. 2, ¶ 21]. The CPSC attributed 40.5% of those injuries to kickbacks. Id.

When asked whether a kickback had caused his accident, Dixon testified in his deposition that "[I]t happened so quick, I don't know if it was a kickback or not." [Doc. No. 76, Exh. C, Deposition of Daniel Dixon ("Dixon Depo."), p. 27]. However, two of Dixon's experts, Holt and Kelly Mehler ("Mehler"), opine that Dixon's accident was most likely the result of a kickback. These experts also opine that the kickback was most likely caused by the saw's defective design. Defendants have moved to exclude Holt's opinions, but do not challenge Mehler's opinions.

The BTS 12S was equipped with a spreader-mounted blade guard, intended to prevent kickbacks, that consisted of three pieces: a spreader (a piece of metal sitting behind the blade, often referred to as a "splitter"); a hood guard attached to the spreader; and anti-kickback pawls, which are also attached to the spreader.

Holt opines that the saw was defectively designed primarily because the saw's spreader mechanism is too flexible and wobbly, [2] because it does not include a rise-and-fall riving knife[3] or a tuning fork, [4] and because the saw does not have "Sawstop" flesh detection technology. Sawstop flesh detection technology causes a blade to stop and retract in milliseconds if it comes into contact with human skin.

Holt states that the riving knife is superior to the splitter on the subject saw because it is much sturdier and leaves less of a gap between the workpiece and the blade, which he opines significantly reduces the chance of a kickback. [Doc. No. 80, Exh. 2, Holt Declaration, p. 5, ¶ 24]. Moreover, Holt is of the opinion that Dixon's hand approached the blade from the front, and, as such, states that a tuning fork likely would have prevented the injury. Id. at ¶ 13. Mehler presents similar opinions.

Flesh detection technology was on the market, but had not yet been integrated into table saws similar to the BTS 12S in 2009. The technology was developed by Dr. Gass, an expert Defendants move to exclude in two separate motions in limine. See [Doc. Nos. 75 & 99]. Although Dixon designated Dr. Gass as an expert, he has refused to testify.

On December 19, 2014, Defendants filed a motion in limine to exclude Dr. Gass's and Holt's opinions and testimonies. [Doc. No. 75]. On January 23, 2015, Dixon filed an opposition memorandum. [Doc. No. 80]. Defendants filed a reply. [Doc. No. 88].

Also on December 19, 2014, Defendants filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment. [Doc. No. 76]. On January 23, 2015, Dixon filed an opposition memorandum[Doc. No. 80], to which Defendants replied. [Doc. No. 88].

On February 2, 2015, Defendants filed a second motion in limine regarding Dr. Gass, moving the Court to exclude Dr. Gass's declaration and prior trial testimony from other cases. [Doc. No. 99]. Dixon filed a memorandum in opposition [Doc. No. 110]; both parties filed supplemental memoranda. [Doc. Nos. 121 & 122].

II. LAW AND ANALYSIS

A. Motions in Limine

Under Federal Rule of Evidence 702, an expert opinion on scientific, technical, or specialized knowledge can be admitted only 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. When faced with expert scientific testimony, the court must determine at the outset if the proponent of the evidence has proven its admissibility by a preponderance of the evidence. Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579, 592 n. 10 (citing FED. R. EVID. 104(a) and Bourjaily v. United States, 483 U.S. 171, 175-76 (1987)). Under Rule 702, a district court has considerable discretion in deciding whether to admit or exclude expert testimony. See Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 152 (1999) ("[W]e conclude that the trial judge must have considerable leeway in deciding in a particular case how to go about determining whether particular expert testimony is reliable."); Gen. Elec. Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 138-9 (1997) (reviewing district court's determination under abuse of discretion standard).

Reliability and relevance, under Rule 702, are the hallmarks of admissible testimony from an expert witness. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 589; In re MBS Mgmt. Servs., Inc., 690 F.3d 352, 357 (5th Cir. 2012) ("[T]he trial judge serves as a gatekeeper to ensure the reliability and relevance of expert testimony."). In making its reliability determination, the court must assess whether the "reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is scientifically valid." Curtis v. M&S Petroleum, Inc., 174 F.3d 661, 668 (5th Cir. 1999). Regarding relevance, the court "must determine whether that reasoning or methodology can be properly applied to the facts in issue." Id. (Citing Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592-93). "The district court's responsibility is to make certain that an expert, whether basing testimony upon professional studies or personal experience, employs in the courtroom the same level of intellectual rigor that characterizes the practice of an expert in the relevant field.'" ...


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