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Sandifer v. Hoyt Archery, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

July 20, 2015



SHELLY D. DICK, District Judge.

Before the Court are several pretrial motions in limine filed by the parties. The parties have briefed the motions extensively and supported their positions with citations to legal authorities and record evidence. The Court has carefully considered the arguments of counsel, the law, and the evidence submitted and the Court does not find that oral argument will aid the Court. The parties' motions will be addressed seriatim.


On August 23, 2011, Dr. Alan Sandifer was killed when a component part, specifically the metal cable guard, of a Hoyt Compound Bow penetrated his left temple and became imbedded in his brain. The Plaintiffs, Mary Sandifer, wife of Dr. Alan Sandifer; Amanda Sandifer, daughter of Dr. Alan Sandifer; and Ryan Sandifer, son of Dr. Alan Sandifer, [1] contend that the Hoyt compound bow (2007 Hoyt Vulcan XT 500) was defective in its design, rendering the product unreasonably dangerous giving rise to liability under the Louisiana Products Liability Act ("LPLA").[2] Defendant, Hoyt Archery Inc., contends that the subject compound bow was safe when used normally and as reasonably anticipated. The events which led to the impalement of the guard rod in the decedent's left temple are unknown because the incident was unwitnessed, and the decedent never regained consciousness before succumbing to his injuries. Hence, the various experts engaged by both parties have necessarily relied on differing factual assumptions in order to develop hypotheses as to how the accident happened and its cause.


Defendant moves the Court to exclude evidence of a fatal accident involving a similar bow manufactured by the Defendant. On June 9, 2008, Mr. Fedderson was killed in his home when the cable guard of his Hoyt compound bow became unexplainably embedded in the left temple of his skull. ("Fedderson Incident") Defendant moves to exclude all evidence of the Fedderson Incident, including testimony by experts, law enforcement reports, and reports and correspondence from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Defendant argues that permitting evidence of the Fedderson Incident would improperly introduce negligence principles into what the Defendant terms a strict liability action.[4] Defendant argues that, because this is a strict liability case, the manufacturer's knowledge or notice of other incidents is irrelevant. Defendant argues that, even if knowledge is germane to the jury's determination of fault under the LPLA, the Fedderson Incident is still irrelevant because it occurred after the Plaintiff purchased the subject bow. Since the Fedderson Incident had not occurred at the time the subject bow left the manufacturer's control, Hoyt argues evidence of the Fedderson Incident is not probative of the manufacturer's knowledge at the time of manufacture and is, therefore, inadmissible.

The Defendant is correct that the manufacturer's actual or constructive knowledge is not a required element in an LPLA design defect case. In that way, an LPLA design defect cause of action resembles strict liability "in the sense that the owner's duty to protect against injurious consequences resulting from the risk does not depend on actual or constructive knowledge of the risk, the factor which usually gives rise to a duty under negligence concepts."[5]

If the only probative value of the Fedderson Incident is to demonstrate actual or constructive knowledge of Hoyt, then the Defendant's argument would have legs. However, the Fedderson Incident is equally probative of defective design. The LPLA provides that "The characteristic of the product that renders it unreasonably dangerous [owing to a design defect] must exist at the time the product left the control of the manufacturer". La. R.S. 9:2800.56. The Plaintiff maintains that, at the time the subject bow left Hoyt's control, the design and placement of the cable guard system was defective. If the Fedderson Incident involved a substantially similar cable guard system in a substantially similar configuration and placement, then the Fedderson Incident is probative of the existence of a defective design. When making a LPLA claim premised on defective design, the plaintiff has the burden of proving "both that the likelihood that the product's design would cause the claimant's damage and that the gravity of the damage outweighed the burden on the manufacturer of adopting an alternative design".[6] If shown to be substantially similar, the Fedderson Incident may be probative of the likelihood of the harm and the gravity of the harm.[7] This probative value is unchanged by the fact that the subject bow was purchased (i.e. left the manufacturer's control) before the Fedderson Incident occurred.

It is undisputed that both the Fedderson and the Sandifer compound bows were manufactured by Hoyt, but they were different models. However, the Plaintiff has offered evidence that the cable guard rod on the Sandifer and Fedderson bows were the same design and placed in the same position on the two bows.[8] It is the design and placement of the cable guard which Plaintiff alleges was defective at the time of manufacture. The cable guard was the mechanism or instrumentality of both the Fedderson and Sandifer injuries. The manner of injury to Sandifer and Fedderson is the same. Both were impaled in the left temple by the cable guard. The Court finds that the Fedderson Incident is substantially similar such that its admission is warranted under the facts and circumstances of this case.

Defendant challenges the admissibility of law enforcement reports, and reports and correspondence from the Consumer Product Safety Commission ("CPSC") regarding the Fedderson Incident, on the grounds of hearsay. Citing FRE 703, Plaintiff responds that experts may rely upon evidence which is otherwise inadmissible hearsay in the formulation of their opinions. An expert can discuss, as the basis for his/her opinion, facts or data which is otherwise inadmissible "if it is of a type reasonably relied upon by experts in the particular field and if the probative value in helping the jury evaluate the opinion substantially outweighs their prejudicial effect."[9] The determination of whether the law enforcement reports and the CPSC documents at issue are of the "type reasonably relied upon by experts in the particular field" and whether the probative value outweighs the prejudicial effect will be determined at the time of trial. Likewise, should Plaintiff seek to offer the law enforcement reports and the CPSC documents as substantive evidence at trial, the Defendant's hearsay objections are reserved and will be decided at the time of trial.

The Defendant's Motion in Limine to Exclude Evidence of Any Alleged Prior Similar Incidents [10] is DENIED. Objections to the admissibility of evidence of the law enforcement and CPSC reports of the Fedderson Incident are reserved to trial.


On the one hand, Plaintiff seeks to offer evidence of a similar incident as evidence that the there is something amiss with the design of the compound bow which is the subject of Plaintiff's product liability suit. On the other hand, Defendant seeks to introduce statistical evidence to rebut Plaintiff's claim that the product is unreasonably dangerous. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Where, as here, the Plaintiff offers evidence of a substantially similar incident, fairness dictates that the Defendant be permitted to rebut the inference that the product is unreasonably dangerous with evidence showing a statistically low injury rate associated with the product.

The Court has reviewed the CV and expert report of Mark L. Edwards, Defendant's statistical expert, and finds that he is qualified by virtue of his education and experience[12] to opine about statistical injury rates in the use of archery equipment such as the compound bow at issue. Plaintiff's objections to the basis and assumptions underlying Edwards' opinions can be adequately challenged on cross examination. "As a general rule, questions relating to the bases and sources of an expert's opinion affect the weight to be assigned that opinion rather than its admissibility and should be left for the [trier of fact's] consideration."[13]

The Court does not find that Edwards' methodology is fundamentally flawed or unreliable. As to the relevance of the statistical injury rate, the Plaintiff correctly points out that the likelihood of harm is an element of the required proof.[14] Simply stated, the likelihood of harm is a fundamental component of the risk-utility balance that the jury will be asked to make. Hence, opinion as to statistical rates of injury is relevant.

The Plaintiff's Motion in Limine to Exclude Testimony of Mark L. Edwards Ph.D. [15] is DENIED.

IV. Defendant's Motion to Exclude Plaintiffs' Proposed Expert Stephen A. Batzer [16]

Dr. Stephen A. Batzer is a PhD licensed mechanical engineer whom the Plaintiff intends to call to provide opinion testimony of design defect. Defendant moves to exclude Batzer, arguing that he is not qualified to render opinions on compound bow design and/or his opinions regarding alternative designs are unreliable.

A. Batzer's Qualifications

Defendant challenges Batzer's qualifications to provide opinion testimony about compound bow design. Defendant argues that Batzer has never worked for a compound bow manufacturer or designed a compound bow, has not published in the area of compound bow design, has never investigated any other compound bow related incidents or formulated any prior opinions on compound bow design, and has no life experience in archery or the use and operation of compound bows. Relying on a case from the Southern District of Mississippi, [18] Defendant argues that Batzer must be qualified to as an expert in the field of archery and compound bow design. The Defendant oversimplifies the Mississippi Court's ruling and reasons.[19] Specialized knowledge is only one factor which can be considered in determining an expert's qualifications to opine on a given subject. The Defendant does not dispute that Dr. Batzer is qualified by virtue of his education, experience, training and knowledge to give opinion testimony in the field of mechanical engineering. Defendant suggests that Batzer must instead be qualified in the fields of archery and compound bow design. The Court is aware of no such disciplines. The question is whether, by virtue of his education, training, skill and experience in the discipline or field of mechanical engineering, he is qualified to give an opinion regarding the mechanical design of products and, in particular, as it relates to this case, whether he is qualified to opine as to the mechanical design and alternative designs of compound bows.

By education, Dr. Stephen Batzer is a mechanical engineer with a PhD. By experience, Dr. Batzer has taught engineering at the university level, including courses in materials, manufacturing, design, and "Professional Engineering Practices". He has practiced extensively in the field of forensic engineering and boasts 68 refereed publications, including publications in failure analysis, forensic engineering, and "Prevention through Design". Dr. Batzer has also lectured on numerous topics involving forensic engineering and has been awarded research grants in various areas involving mechanical engineering.[20] The Court is satisfied that Dr. Batzer is well qualified by education, skill, experience, and training to provide ...

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