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Robenhorst v. Dematic Corp.

April 22, 2008


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

Mag. Judge Michael T. Mason


Before the Court is defendant Dematic Corporation f/k/a Siemens Logistics and Assembly Systems, Inc.'s ("defendant" or "Dematic") motion in limine to preclude plaintiff Brett T. Robenhorst ("plaintiff") from presenting evidence regarding or referring to any remedial measures taken subsequent to plaintiff's accident. For the reasons stated below, defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part.


Plaintiff seeks damages for injuries he sustained while working on Line 191 at Ford Motor Company's ("Ford") Chicago Heights Stamping Plant (the "Ford Plant"). The Ford Plant utilizes an automatic guided vehicle ("AGV") system. Plaintiff sustained his injuries while loading panels onto a trailer pulled by an AGV. The AGV*fn1 was manufactured by Dematic and sold to Ford in 1998. Each AGV at the Ford Plant was equipped with a bumper. As designed, the bumper is the primary safety device for the vehicle and is designed to stop the AGV if it comes into contact with an unforeseen object, such as a person, a piece of equipment, a trailer, or another AGV. Following the accident, Ford employees removed the bumper on the AGV and gave it to two Dematic employees, who took it to Dematic's facility for testing. The inspection revealed that the bumper was not a Dematic bumper. In fact, the bumper on the AGV at the time of the accident (the "Ford Bumper") had been fabricated by Ford or someone hired by Ford and was not made out of original parts.

Plaintiff alleges that Dematic negligently engineered, designed and created the AGV system servicing Line 191 so that the vehicles and trailers could foreseeably collide. Defendant denies that it was negligent and denies that the AGV system, as manufactured, was unsafe. Defendant also contends that the AGV system was substantially modified by Ford or someone acting on Ford's behalf prior to the accident and was poorly maintained by Ford.

Dematic moves in limine to preclude plaintiff from presenting any evidence of certain alterations to the AGV system implemented after the November 3, 2004 accident, including evidence that Dematic and/or Ford: (1) changed the AGV software and installed magnets in the floor to change the station cycles from a jog system to an index system and (2) relocated charge plates and battery chargers on the incoming paths to change the approach of the incoming AGV vehicles. In support, Dematic relies on Federal Rule of Evidence 407 which provides:

When, after an injury or harm allegedly caused by an event, measures are taken that, if taken previously, would have made the injury or harm less likely to occur, evidence of the subsequent measures is not admissible to prove negligence, culpable conduct, a defect in a product, a defect in a product's design, or a need for warning or instruction. This rule does not require the exclusion of evidence of subsequent measures when offered for another purpose, such as proving ownership, control, or feasibility of precautionary measures, if controverted, or impeachment.

See, also Kaczmarek v. Allied Chemical Corp., 836 F.2d 1055, 1060 (7th Cir. 1987). As defendant points out, there are strong policy reasons supporting the exclusion of subsequent remedial measures, including the "social policy of encouraging people to take, or at least not to discourage them from taking, steps in furtherance of added safety." Public Serv. Co. of Indiana v. Bath Iron Works Corp., 773 F.2d 783, 791 (7th Cir. 1985) (internal quotations omitted).

Plaintiff acknowledges that, pursuant to Rule 407, subsequent remedial measures cannot be admitted to prove negligence. Thus, to the extent Dematic's motion seeks to bar plaintiff from introducing evidence of any subsequent remedial measures to establish that Dematic was negligent, it is undisputed. However, plaintiff contends that evidence of subsequent remedial measures should be admitted to prove matters other than Dematic's negligence. In response to defendant's motion, plaintiff's counsel states that in addition to the two types of evidence identified above, he will introduce evidence of the: (3) addition of a manual release button; (4) removal of the manstand; (5) installation of guardrails; and (6) relocation of the AGV paths to make the paths into the load station straight. Plaintiff contends that this evidence is admissible under the control exception, for impeachment, and to establish the feasibility of precautionary measures.

On April 14, 2008, this Court heard oral arguments on defendant's motion. At that time, plaintiff's counsel stated his intent to introduce the "Ideas Document" prepared by Jeffrey Guinn, a Dematic employee, following the accident. The Ideas Document identifies proposed post-accident revisions to the AGV system. Plaintiff provided the document, marked as deposition exhibit 77B, to this Court for consideration. The parties also tendered a change order, dated November 5, 2004 and executed by Ford and Dematic, ("CO1") which sets forth the following changes to the parties' prior agreement:

1. Changes to Line 191 Station Layout and Cycle: C Change load station 49 and 50 Station cycles from Jog to Index. Each station will have three index stop Locations.

C Engineering services to re-locate floor responders.

C Engineering services to relocate Station 27 Charge Plate and Path and (4) four Chargers currently ...

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