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Jaroslaw Wielgus v. Ryobi Technologies

August 21, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Young B. Kim


In this diversity suit, Jaroslaw Wielgus brings claims of negligence, breach of implied warranty, and strict liability under Illinois law (R. 84), alleging that Ryobi Technologies, Inc., One World Technologies, Inc., and Home Depot, USA, Inc. (collectively, "the defendants"), are liable for hand injuries he sustained in March 2006 while using the Ryobi Model BTS10S tablesaw, a product that the defendants manufactured or sold and Wielgus contends was unreasonably dangerous when it left the defendants' control in 2005.*fn1 On March 6, 2012, the parties filed a total of 41 motions in limine. This court has dealt with the voluminous submissions in sections, grouping the motions by subject matter and issuing opinions resolving a particular group at a time. See (R. 248, 251, 257, 259, 261, 263). In this seventh opinion, the court will resolve defendants' motion in limine numbers 1 and 23, both seeking to preclude evidence of other accidents involving tablesaws. For the following reasons, motion number 1 (R. 168) is denied, and motion number 23 (R. 190) is denied without prejudice.

Legal Standard

Included in the district court's inherent authority to manage trials is the broad discretion to rule on motions in limine. Aldridge v. Forest River, Inc., 635 F.3d 870, 874-75 (7th Cir. 2011). The purpose of such motions is to perform a "gatekeeping function and permit[] the trial judge to eliminate from further consideration evidentiary submissions that clearly ought not to be presented to the jury because they clearly would be inadmissible for any purpose." Jonasson v. Lutheran Child & Family Servs., 115 F.3d 436, 440 (7th Cir. 1997). The moving party bears the burden of demonstrating blanket inadmissibility. See Mason v. City of Chicago, 631 F.Supp.2d 1052, 1056 (N.D. Ill. 2009). Absent such a showing, evidentiary rulings should be deferred until trial, where decisions can be better informed by the context, foundation, and relevance of the contested evidence within the framework of the trial as a whole. Anglin v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 139 F.Supp.2d 914, 917 (N.D. Ill. 2001)."A pre-trial ruling denying a motion in limine does not automatically mean that all evidence contested in the motion will be admitted at trial," Bruce v. City of Chicago, No. 09 CV 4837, 2011 WL 3471074, at *1 (N.D. Ill. July 29, 2011), for the court may revisit evidentiary rulings during trial as appropriate in its exercise of its discretion, see Luce v. United States, 469 U.S. 38, 41-42 (1984).


I. Defendants' Motion in Limine No. 1 to Bar Reference to, and the Admission of, Accident Data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System and the Consumer Product Safety Commission Defendants' motion number 1 is denied. With this motion, the defendants seek to preclude Wielgus from introducing any testimony referring to, relying on, or derived from, the Consumer Product Safety Commission's ("CPSC") collection of saw-related accident data as part of its National Electronic Injury Surveillance System ("NEISS") program. The defendants bring this motion in anticipation of Wielgus's efforts to introduce at trial the data collected by the NEISS database from representative hospitals and the resulting national estimates of injuries from saw-related accidents.

NEISS is a database that is compiled and maintained by CPSC. (R. 168-1, Defs.' Mot., Ex. 1, CPSC's "The NEISS Sample" (June 2001) at 2.) The database collects data about injuries associated with consumer products from the emergency rooms of approximately 100 designated hospitals. (Id.) To provide an accurate statistical sample representing the United States' population, the reporting hospitals are selected based on geographic location and the demographics of their service areas. (Id. at 3-4.) The surveillance data collected from the hospitals is used to make national estimates of the number of injuries associated with (but not necessarily caused by) specific consumer products. (Id. at 1.)

When a patient is admitted to the emergency room of a NEISS hospital with an injury, an emergency room staff member-a clerk, nurse, or physician-collects information about how the injury occurred and enters that information into the patient's medical record. (Id.; R. 168-2, Defs.' Mot. Ex. 2a, CPSC's "NEISS: A Tool for Researchers" (March 2000) at 8.) A "coder" from NEISS then reviews the patient's emergency room records and transmits the pertinent data to NEISS, including the patient's age, gender, race, injury diagnosis, body party injured, and the treatment received. (R. 168-1 at 1-2; R. 168-2 at 8.) The coder also transmits a description of the incident and the product involved in the injury, providing as much detail about the product as is included in the emergency room record. (R. 168-1 at 1; R. 168-2 at 8.)

The defendants argue that the NEISS data and the resulting CPSC reports about the number of saw-related injuries are hearsay, inadmissible to prove the truth of the matter asserted, and are untrustworthy, irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial. Wielgus counters that the NEISS data is admissible to prove the truth of the matter asserted because it qualifies under the Federal Rule of Evidence 803(8) public records hearsay exception. Wielgus also contends that the data is admissible for two valid non-hearsay purposes: (1) the data demonstrates that the defendants had notice of the dangerousness of the BTS10S tablesaw model; and (2) the data is a proper basis for the opinions given by Wielgus's experts under Federal Rule of Evidence 703. Wielgus further argues that the NEISS data is reliable and not unfairly prejudicial when balanced against its relevance.

The defendants first contend that the NEISS data is hearsay, inadmissible to prove the truth of the matter asserted because the data is composed of multiple layers of out-of-court statements that Wielgus has not demonstrated is trustworthy. Under Rule 803(8), a public record is not excluded by the rule against hearsay in a civil case if it is a "record or statement of a public office" that sets out "factual findings from a legally authorized investigation" and "neither the source of information nor other circumstances indicate a lack of trustworthiness." Fed. R. Evid. 803(8). The Consumer Product Safety Act charges CPSC with protecting the public "against unreasonable risks of injury associated with consumer products," 15 U.S.C. § 2051(b)(3), and developing "uniform safety standards for consumer products," 15 U.S.C. § 2051(b)(4). To accomplish these objectives, the Act requires CPSC to "maintain an Injury Information Clearinghouse to collect, investigate, analyze, and disseminate injury data, and information, relating to the causes and prevention of death, injury, and illness associated with consumer products." 15 U.S.C. § 2054(a)(1). CPSC complies with this directive through the NEISS database.

The defendants do not dispute that the reports from the NEISS database satisfy the requirements for a public record within the meaning of Rule 803(8). Rather, the dispute centers on whether the data collected by the NEISS system is trustworthy, a required element for admissibility under Rule 803(8)(B). Where the threshold requirements of Rule 803(8)(A)(iii) are met-the record constitutes a factual finding from a legally authorized investigation-trustworthiness is presumed, and the burden is on the party opposing admission to show a lack of trustworthiness. See Klein v. Vanek, 86 F.Supp.2d 812, 820 (N.D. Ill. 2000); see also Abrams v. Van Kampen Funds, Inc., No. 01 CV 7538, 2005 WL 88973, at *18 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 13, 2005). In evaluating whether the sources of information or other circumstances indicate a lack of trustworthiness, this court looks to, among other factors, the timeliness of the investigation, the special skill or experience of the investigator, whether a hearing was held, and possible bias when reports are prepared with a view to possible litigation. Fed. R. Evid. 803, 1972 Advisory Committee Notes; see also Beech Aircraft Corp. v. Rainey, 488 U.S. 153, 167 n.11 (1988); Klein, 86 F.Supp.2d at 820.

The defendants do not offer any argument as to why any of these factors demonstrate that the NEISS data is untrustworthy. Instead, they claim that the NEISS database is inherently unreliable because it is created from compiling multiple layers of out-of-court hearsay statements. The defendants argue that the database-on which the CPSC reports are based-relies on statements made by patients to an emergency room staff member who then enters the information into the medical file, which is then interpreted by a coder, who then transmits the pertinent information to NEISS. Such a process, according to the defendants, makes the NEISS data and CPSC's national estimates of saw-related injuries extrapolated therefrom unreliable.

That a public document contains multiple levels of hearsay does not make it automatically unreliable and therefore untrustworthy for purposes of Rule 803(8). The Seventh Circuit confirmed this proposition in In the Matter of Oil Spill by Amoco Cadiz Off the Coast of France, 954 F.2d 1279, 1308 (7th Cir. 1992), holding that "[n]othing in either the text or history of Rule 803(8) supports an approach that would make the rule essentially useless-for the bureaucrat who fills out a governmental form usually incorporates information furnished by others." Indeed, "Rule 803(8) is a multi-level exception, in the footsteps of its common law precursors." Id. In other words, when preparing reports based on statistics, government agencies, like CPSC, necessarily must gather data from other sources, among them the NEISS database, since the occurrences that form the basis for the statistics did not occur firsthand to the agency preparing the report.*fn2 Inherent in Rule 803(8) is the presumption that public officials conducting a legally authorized investigation "performed their duties properly, without any motive or interest on their part other than to prepare an accurate report." Huff v. State of Illinois, No. 97 CV 4568, 2003 WL 168630, at *5 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 23, 2003). What's more, "that an unbiased investigator took statements from arguably biased witnesses is not a basis for excluding the report, because absent evidence to the contrary, the investigator is presumed to have sufficient competence and impartiality to weigh such evidence properly." Id.

Pertinent to the question of whether the NEISS data is unreliable is whether it is regularly and reasonably relied on by experts in the field. The defendants do not dispute that the NEISS data is regularly relied upon by other government agencies and experts in the field of consumer product safety.*fn3 Nor could they. See (R. 168-2, Defs.' Mot., Ex. 2a at 2) ("NEISS data are available to all and are typically used by other agencies of the Government, manufacturers, researchers, lawyers, and the general public. Over time NEISS has provided [CPSC] and some other Federal agencies with timely national estimates of product-related injuries."). Indeed, CPSC-the regulatory body charged with monitoring the safety of consumer products and, certainly, experts in the field of product safety-developed the NEISS database and uses it to accomplish its objectives under the Consumer Product Safety Act. See Trull v. ...

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