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HAAGER v. CHICAGO RAIL LINK

October 17, 2005.

RONALD E. HAAGER, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
CHICAGO RAIL LINK, LLC, CSX TRANSPORTATION and CSX INTERMODAL, INC., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MORTON DENLOW, Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This case comes before this Court on Defendants' Motion to Exclude Expert Testimony of Paul F. Byrnes. This motion was referred by District Judge Mark Filip for resolution pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). An oral argument on the motion was held before this Court on October 11, 2005, and the Court announced its rulings from the bench. This memorandum opinion provides additional explanation for the Court's rulings. To the extent this memorandum opinion conflicts in any way with the Court's oral rulings, this memorandum opinion shall control.

I. BACKGROUND FACTS

  The plaintiff, Ronald E. Haager, Sr. ("Plaintiff"), filed a four-count complaint against Chicago Rail Link, LLC ("CRL"), CSX Transportation ("CSXT"), and CSX Intermodal, Inc. ("CSXI") (collectively "Defendants") claiming that he injured his right knee while trying to force open the inner cab door on a locomotive owned by CSXT. Counts I and II of the complaint, brought against CRL, are based upon the Federal Employer's Liability Act ("FELA"), 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq., and the Federal Locomotive Inspection Act ("LIA"), 49 U.S.C. § 20701 et seq. Count III, brought against CSXT, and Count IV, brought against CSXI, are both negligence claims. All four counts arise from the same incident and are premised on the same allegations of wrongdoing.

  On March 29, 2004, Plaintiff was employed by CRL as a locomotive engineer. He was assigned to perform switching work using locomotives owned and maintained by CSXT. The work transpired at the Bedford Park intermodal terminal operated by CSXI. When Plaintiff attempted to open the front engine cab door on a locomotive, CSXT 4767, with a broken door handle or latch mechanism, he injured his right knee. Plaintiff was diagnosed with a torn medial meniscus and had an arthroscopic procedure performed.

  Pursuant to Rule 26(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Plaintiff disclosed to Defendants the identity of his expert witnesses along with written reports, prepared and signed by the experts, disclosing the opinions each expert witness will offer, the information considered by the witness in forming the opinions, the qualifications of the witness, and other relevant information related to the witness' testimony. Paul F. Byrnes ("Byrnes") was included on the expert witness list. On his curriculum vitae, Byrnes describes himself as a "consultant/attorney at law."

  From 1970 through 1989, Byrnes worked as a locomotive engineer. He then attended the University of Colorado where he received his bachelor of science degree in 1993. Following his undergraduate studies, Burns enrolled in the University of Colorado School of Law and received his juris doctor in 1996. During law school, Byrnes spent three more years working as a locomotive engineer. After law school, Byrnes worked as an associate at a law firm for one year. He spent the next two years working at three different firms as a consultant or legal advisor. Then, in 1998, Byrnes joined the Federal Railroad Administration ("FRA"), which is an agency within the United States Department of Transportation. He worked as a trial attorney at the FRA until 2001. Following the FRA, Byrnes returned to Colorado and became an associate at a law firm. He worked in the litigation department of the law firm until 2003. As noted above, Byrnes is now a consultant/attorney at law.

  In his expert opinion report, Byrnes gives ten opinions on the case. Those opinions gave rise to this motion by Defendants.

  II. LEGAL STANDARDS

  The leading case addressing the admissibility of expert testimony is Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). In Daubert, the Supreme Court stated that a district court has a "gatekeeping role" of ensuring that an expert's testimony is both reliable and relevant. Id. at 597. In the Seventh Circuit, the principles set forth in Daubert and Federal Rule of Evidence 702 ("Rule 702") specifically govern the admission of expert testimony. Smith v. Ford Motor Co., 215 F.3d 713, 717 (7th Cir. 2000). Rule 702 mandates that expert testimony must satisfy the following standard:
If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.
FED. R. EVID. 702. Preliminary questions concerning the qualifications of an expert witness or the admissibility of evidence are determined by the court. FED. R. EVID. 104(a). The party that proffers an expert's testimony bears the burden, by a preponderance of proof, of establishing its admissibility. Dukes v. Illinois Cent. R. Co., 934 F. Supp. 939, 946 (N.D. Ill. 1996). Therefore, this Court must determine if Byrnes' expert testimony is both reliable and relevant. Kunz v. City of Chicago, 2004 WL 2980642, at *5 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 23, 2004).

  III. DISCUSSION

  A. Reliability of Expert Testimony

  1. Expert's Qualifications

  An expert's reliability depends upon both the qualifications of the expert and the methodology used by that expert. Smith, 215 F.3d at 718; Kunz, 2004 WL 2980642 at *5. An expert's qualifications, however, need not be based on academic pedigree alone. Kunz, 2004 WL 2980642 at *5. Practical experience and training may serve as proper bases of expertise. FED. R. EVID. 702 (stating that a witness can be qualified as an expert through "knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education."); Tysus v. Urban Search Mgmt., 102 F.3d 256, 263 (7th Cir. 1996) (concluding that "genuine expertise may be based on experience or training"). In the instant case, Byrnes possesses over twenty years of experience working as a locomotive engineer. He spent nine years with the Illinois Central Railroad Company in Chicago, Illinois; twelve years with the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company in Denver, Colorado; one year with Amtrak in Seattle, Washington; and three years with the United States Department of Transportation's Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colorado. In addition to Byrnes' significant practical experience, he worked as a consultant ...


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