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Robenhorst v. Dematic Corp.

April 14, 2008

BRETT T. ROBENHORST, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DEMATIC CORPORATION F/K/A SIEMENS LOGISTICS AND ASSEMBLY SYSTEMS, INC. DEFENDANT,



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael T. Mason United States Magistrate Judge

Mag. Judge Michael T. Mason

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the Court are plaintiff Brett T. Robenhorst's ("plaintiff") motions in limine and defendant Dematic Corporation f/k/a Siemens Logistics and Assembly Systems, Inc.'s ("defendant" or "Dematic") motion in limine.*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's motion to bar any reference to unrelated health conditions, care or treatment is denied in part and granted in part; plaintiff's motion to bar any reference to negligence or other misconduct by Ford is denied; and plaintiff's motion to bar any reference to Dematic's bumper testing or in-court demonstration of automatic guided vehicle ("AGV") mockups is denied. Defendant's motion to preclude plaintiff from presenting evidence of any prior occurrence that is not substantially similar to the accident at issue is denied in part and granted in part.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff seeks damages from Dematic for injuries he sustained while working at Ford Motor Company's ("Ford") Chicago Heights Stamping Plant (the "Ford Plant"). The Ford Plant utilizes an AGV system. An AGV system is one of the many types of material movement systems that can be integrated into a manufacturing plant. The AGV's at issue were manufactured by Dematic and sold to Ford in 1998. At the time of sale, each AGV vehicle was equipped with a standard bumper. Ford operated the AGV system on a daily basis, and maintained and repaired the AGV vehicles.

On November 3, 2004, plaintiff was loading panels onto a stationary trailer from a manstand platform at his assigned work station, located on Line 191. As plaintiff continued loading the trailer, he stepped off the manstand and stood in a gap between the manstand and the stationary trailer. The stationary trailer was then struck by a trailer pulled by another AGV ("AGV #22"). The resulting impact pushed the stationary trailer into the manstand, trapping plaintiff's left leg between the trailer and the manstand platform. Plaintiff's leg was later amputated below the knee.

Following the incident, Ford employees removed the bumper on AGV #22 and gave it to two Dematic employees for testing. With Ford's permission, the employees took the bumper to Dematic's facility in Grand Rapids where it was inspected, measured and tested. The inspection revealed that the bumper was not a Dematic bumper. The bumper on AGV #22 at the time of the incident (the "Ford Bumper") was fabricated by Ford or someone hired by Ford, and was not made out of original parts. Dematic's inspection and testing of the Ford Bumper revealed that it differed from the standard Dematic bumper in a number of ways.

After Dematic completed its testing of the Ford Bumper, Dematic hand delivered the bumper to Ford's Director of Safety and Human Resources. Despite a court order requiring Ford to maintain and preserve the equipment at issue in this case, Ford subsequently misplaced or destroyed the Ford Bumper. Because Ford has been unable to locate the Ford Bumper, it has not been available for testing or observation by the parties' experts.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

This Court has broad discretion in ruling on evidentiary questions presented before trial on motions in limine. Jenkins v. Chrysler Motors Corp., 316 F.3d 663, 664 (7th Cir. 2002). The power to exclude evidence in limine derives from this Court's authority to manage trials. Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41 n. 4, 105 S.Ct. 460 (1984). Evidence should be excluded in limine only where it is clearly inadmissible on all potential grounds. Id. "Unless evidence meets this high standard, evidentiary rulings should be deferred until trial so that questions of foundation, relevancy and potential prejudice may be resolved in proper context." Hawthorne Partners v. AT&T Techs., Inc., 831 F. Supp. 1398, 1400 (N.D. Ill. 1993). Thus, the party moving to exclude evidence in limine has the burden of establishing that the evidence is not admissible for any purpose. Id.; see, also Wilson v. Pope 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10228, *15 (N.D. Ill. July 14, 1997). Denial of a motion in limine does not mean that all evidence contemplated by the motion will be admitted at trial. Hawthorne, 831 F. Supp. at 1401. Rather, denial means the court cannot determine whether the evidence in question should be excluded outside of the trial context. United States v. Connelly, 874 F. 2d 412, 416 (7th Cir. 1989), Broom v. Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt, 867 F. Supp. 686, 690-91 (N.D. Ill. 1994). Accordingly, this Court will entertain objections as they arise at trial, even if the proffer falls within the scope of a denied motion in limine. Id., citing Connelly, 874 F.2d at 416.

With these guidelines in mind, we turn to the motions before this Court.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiff's Motion to Bar Any Reference to Unrelated Health Conditions, Care or Treatment

As Dematic points out, plaintiff's motion to exclude evidence of unrelated medical treatment is really three motions in one. Plaintiff asks this Court to bar any evidence of or reference to: (1) any pre-existing health condition, care or treatment of plaintiff without proper expert foundation; (2) certain "prior life episodes" that plaintiff related to his counselor, Jean Lubeckis; and (3) any health condition, care or treatment sought or received by plaintiff's wife or family. With regard to plaintiff's first request, Dematic does not intend to argue that there is a casual connection between plaintiff's prior physical injuries - a dislocated shoulder and stitches - and the injuries he is claiming in this case. Therefore, this portion of plaintiff's motion is undisputed.

Turning to plaintiff's alleged mental condition, plaintiff asks this Court to bar certain "prior life episodes" that he relayed to Ms. Lubeckis. These "prior life episodes" are described in Ms. Lubeckis' treatment records. However, these records were not provided to this Court. Nonetheless, in a footnote to his motion, plaintiff states that: "when [he] was young, a friend of his shot his uncle; that other friends were involved in auto theft, burglary; and that when he was single, [plaintiff] engaged in drinking and sexual behavior that he is not proud of today." Plaintiff also states that he married his wife in 1969, meaning that the "prior life episodes" occurred more than 39 years ago.

Defendant contends that the "prior life episodes" are relevant on the issue of damages. Specifically, defendant claims that, to the extent plaintiff discussed these episodes with his mental health provider while seeking treatment, they are relevant to her diagnosis of depression and/or post-traumatic stress disorder. See Fed. R. Evid. 701 (relevant evidence is that "having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more or less probable than it would be without the evidence.") Alternatively, defendant claims that the evidence may be admitted for impeachment purposes. See Smith v. Ford Motor, 215 F.3d 713, 719 (7th Cir. 2000) (counsel must be provided an opportunity to cross-examine the opposing party's expert "regarding his conclusions and the facts on which they are based.")

In Voykin v. Estate of DeBoer, the case relied on by plaintiff to support the exclusion of "prior life episodes," the Illinois Supreme Court noted that evidence of a prior injury may be admissible for one of three purposes: "(1) to negate causation; (2) to negate or reduce damages; or (3) as impeachment." 733 N.E.2d 1275, 1279 (Ill. 2000). The Voykin court also found that if defendant wished to introduce evidence of a prior injury, "the defendant must introduce expert evidence demonstrating why the prior injury is relevant to causation, damages, or some other issue of consequence." Id. at 1280.

Because evidence of plaintiff's "prior life episodes" may be relevant to the issues of damages or causation, Voykin does not support the exclusion of plaintiff's "prior life episodes" in limine. Rather, it holds that a defendant seeking to introduce evidence of past injuries must introduce expert evidence unless the trial court determines that a lay person can ...


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