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David v. C and G Boats, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

September 8, 2017


         SECTION “R” (2)



         Before the Court are plaintiff's two motions in limine to exclude defense experts David Scruton[1] and James Pritchett.[2] For the following reasons, the Court denies plaintiff's motion to exclude David Scruton. The Court denies as moot plaintiff's motion to exclude James Pritchett.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of an accident aboard the M/V MS JANE, a vessel owned by Defendant A & A Boats, Inc.[3] Plaintiff Carlos David alleges that he was employed by Defendant M N M Boats, Inc. as a deckhand on the M/V MS JANE when he was struck by a personnel basket and seriously injured.[4]Plaintiff's accident allegedly occurred while he was helping to guide and land the personnel basket on the deck of the M/V MS JANE.[5] Plaintiff asserts that the captain of the vessel and the crane operator each failed to follow proper and safe procedures in performing the personnel basket transfer, and that their negligence directly caused his injuries.[6]

         On May 15, 2015, plaintiff filed a seaman's complaint for damages.[7]This matter is set for trial beginning October 2, 2017.[8] Plaintiff now moves to exclude defense experts James Pritchett and David Scruton on the basis that some of their opinions are either unreliable or constitute improper legal conclusions.[9] Defendants have withdrawn Pritchett as a testifying expert.[10]The Court therefore considers only plaintiff's motion to exclude Scruton.


         Federal Rule of Evidence 702 gives the district court considerable discretion to admit or exclude expert testimony. See Gen. Elec. Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 138-39 (1997). Rule 702 provides that a witness “qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education” may provide opinion testimony when “scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.” Fed.R.Evid. 702. To be admissible, Rule 702 requires that (1) the testimony be based on sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony be the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness apply the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case. Id. In Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., the Supreme Court held that Rule 702 requires the district court to act as a gatekeeper to ensure that “any and all scientific testimony or evidence admitted is not only relevant, but reliable.” 509 U.S. 579, 589 (1993). See also Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 147 (1999) (clarifying that the Daubert gatekeeping function applies to all forms of expert testimony). The Court's gatekeeping function therefore involves a two-part inquiry. First, the Court must determine whether the expert testimony is reliable. The party offering the testimony has the burden to establish reliability by a preponderance of the evidence. See Moore v. Ashland Chem. Inc., 151 F.3d 269, 276 (5th Cir.1998). The Court must assess whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the expert's testimony is valid. See Daubert, 509 U.S. at 590. The aim is to exclude expert testimony based merely on subjective belief or unsupported speculation. See Id. The Court's inquiry into the reliability of expert testimony is flexible and necessarily fact-specific. See Seatrax, Inc. v. Sonbeck Int'l, Inc., 200 F.3d 358, 372 (5th Cir. 2000).

         Second, the Court must determine whether the expert's reasoning or methodology “fits” the facts of the case and whether it will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence. See Daubert at 591. This is primarily an inquiry into the relevance of the expert testimony. See id; see also Bocanegra v. Vicmar Services, Inc., 320 F.3d 581, 584 (5th Cir. 2003). Expert testimony is unnecessary if the court finds that “the jury could adeptly assess [the] situation using only their common experience and knowledge.” Peters v. Five Star Marine Serv., 898 F.2d 448, 450 (5th Cir. 1990).


         A. Expert Qualifications and Reliability

         Scruton is a marine consultant with over 16 years of experience at sea, including service as a vessel safety officer and captain, and 27 years of experience as a marine consultant and surveyor.[11] He has experience overseeing the training of crewmembers in vessel handling, maneuvering, towing, pushing of barges, and line handling.[12] Scruton also serves as an arbitrator in maritime disputes.[13] The Court finds that Scruton is sufficiently qualified to testify as a marine safety expert.

         Plaintiff does not contest Scruton's general maritime expertise, but argues that Scruton lacks specific experience in offshore crane operations and is not qualified to offer opinions from the perspective of a crane operator.[14] Scruton's report includes three opinions related to crane operations.[15] The Court finds that these opinions relate primarily to the general safety practices and procedures that a crane operator should follow during personnel basket transfers and do not require personal experience as a crane operator. Scruton's report indicates that he has experience with the type of Billy Pugh personnel basket that injured plaintiff and is familiar with recommended safety practices for personnel basket transfers.[16] Moreover, plaintiff acknowledges that Scruton is sufficiently qualified to testify about personnel basket transfers from the perspective of a vessel captain or crewmember.[17] Scruton's report describes the respective roles of the vessel's captain and deckhand in ensuring that personnel basket transfers are conducted safely.[18]

         The Court finds that Scruton has sufficient expertise to testify about whether the crane operator involved in plaintiff's accident followed proper practices and procedures, and that Scruton's opinions are outside the common understanding of the jury. See Metrejean v. REC Marine Logistics, L.L.C., No. 08-5049, 2009 WL 3062622, at *3 (E.D. La. 2009) (finding that expert was sufficiently qualified to testify about the ...

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