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Deimer v. Cincinnati Sub-Zero Products

July 5, 1995






Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

No. 90 C 1412--Charles P. Kocoras, Judge.

Before CUDAHY, ESCHBACH and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges.

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge.



Constance Deimer was a surgical nurse at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. On March 21, 1988, Ms. Deimer was injured while moving a Blanketrol Hypo-Hyperthermia machine manufactured by Cincinnati Sub-Zero Products, Inc. ("Sub-Zero") to an operating room. Just before the injury, the power cord for the machine was lying across the top of the machine. As Ms. Deimer began to push the machine to the operating room, the power cord fell off the machine, and she stumbled on it. Ms. Deimer consequently bumped into the machine and fell. The 185-pound machine (filled with several gallons of water) then became unstable and fell on her knee.

Ms. Deimer brought an action against Sub-Zero on the alternative theories of strict liability and negligent product design. She alleged both that the machine was top-heavy and unstable, and that the machine had an inadequate and detachable cord wrap. The original action was brought in Illinois state court, but Sub-Zero removed the suit to the district court on the ground that the parties were of diverse citizenship. See 28 U.S.C. sec. 1441.

The district court dismissed the strict liability claim. In regard to the claim concerning the negligent product design of the power cord, the district court granted partial summary judgment for the defendant. The court held that Ms. Deimer's deposition testimony that she did not look for the cord-storage wrap device on the day of the accident precluded any claim that this alleged defect was the proximate cause of her injury. Trial was conducted on the remainder of the negligence count. However, Ms. Deimer's expert witness was prohibited from testifying at trial on the cord wrap defect issue. The district court denied Ms. Deimer's motion, accompanied by a clarifying affidavit, to reconsider the grant of partial judgment, and ultimately the district court granted judgment as a matter of law for Sub-Zero under Fed. R. Civ. P. 50.

On the first appeal to this court, we affirmed the grant of judgment as a matter of law, but remanded the denial of Ms. Deimer's motion to reconsider the partial summary judgment. We held that "in light of [Ms. Deimer's] clarifying affidavit," summary judgment concerning the negligent design of the cord wrap device was not appropriate. Deimer v. Cincinnati Sub-Zero Prods., Inc., 990 F.2d 342, 346 (7th Cir. 1993).

After preliminary motions had been addressed, a jury trial was held on April 12, 1994. During the trial, the district court granted Sub-Zero's oral motion to strike the testimony of Ms. Deimer's expert witness, Roland Ruhl. The court then granted Sub-Zero's motion for judgment as a matter of law. In an oral rendition, the district court, relying on Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 113 S. Ct. 2786 (1993), held that Dr. Ruhl's testimony was merely subjective opinion, lacking any scientific methodology. The district court was of the view that Dr. Ruhl had failed to substantiate his opinion on the basis of any scientific research. The court also held that Dr. Ruhl's analysis had not been applied, in a meaningful way, to the facts of the case. It concluded that "[t]here is simply no evidence from which a rational jury could conclude that this was an unsafe machine when it left their possession, control and manufacture, that it was unsafe for its intended use or that they should bear liability for what happened here." Tr.III at 458. Ms. Deimer now appeals the judgment of the district court and submits that the court erred in its exclusion of Dr. Ruhl's testimony and the consequent granting of judgment as a matter of law to the defendant.



Recently, this circuit made clear that a federal standard of review governs the adjudication of a motion for a judgment as a matter of law:

[I]t is entirely consistent to say that although state law defines the elements of a claim and the burden of persuasion, federal law defines the standard for evaluating the sufficiency of the evidence. If reasonable persons could not find that the evidence justifies a decision for a party on each essential element, the court should grant judgment as a matter of law-before trial under Rule 56, later under Rule 50, and using the same federal standard each time. By linking the standard for summary judgment to the standard for overturning a verdict, Anderson and Celotex leave no other option. We now adopt the federal reasonable-person standard across the board: pre-trial, mid-trial, post-trial, and on ...

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