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McFarland v. Tricam Industries, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois

February 17, 2015

ANTHONY McFARLAND, Plaintiff,
v.
TRICAM INDUSTRIES, INC., Defendant.

ORDER

SUSAN E. COX, Magistrate Judge.

For the reasons provided, defendant Tricam Industries' Motion In Limine to Exclude Certain Testimony of Gary Hutter is denied [78].

STATEMENT

Anthony McFarland (McFarland) alleges that, on January 12, 2012, while using a step-stool manufactured by Tricam Industries (Tricam), the step-stool became unhinged and fell flat, resulting in injury to his face and neck.[1] McFarland subsequently filed suit against Tricam for product liability.[2] Trial has been set for March 2 - 4, 2015.[3]

Defendant Tricam initially filed eighteen motions in limine seeking to exclude certain portions of the testimony of Plaintiff McFarland's expert witness, Gary Hutter.[4] During the pre-trial conference, District Judge Castillo ordered Tricam to condense these various motions into one motion in limine to exclude portions of expert testimony, commonly called a partial Daubert motion.[5] Tricam has done so, [6] and that motion is fully denied for the reasons stated below.

I. Applicable Legal Standards

The trial judge has the authority and duty to act as gatekeeper for expert evidence, allowing only that which is both relevant and reliable.[7] This authority extends not merely to scientific evidence, but also to technical evidence, as well as "other specialized knowledge that will assist the trier of fact."[8] This discretion is reviewable only for its abuse;[9] on appeal, the trial judge's decision will be reviewed only to determine that she followed proper Daubert procedure.[10] So long as she has done so, her decision will not be overturned unless it is clearly erroneous.[11]

Daubert requires two steps. First, the trial judge must determine whether "the reasoning or methodology underlying the [expert's] testimony is scientifically valid."[12] Second, she must determine "whether the evidence or testimony assists the trier of fact in understanding the evidence or determining a fact at issue;" in other words, the testimony must "fit" the facts.[13] She may exclude evidence if she finds that there is "simply too great an analytical gap between the data and the opinion proferred."[14]

II. Discussion

Tricam's objections to portions of Mr. Hutter's testimony[15] fall into three main categories: objections to Mr. Hutter's speculations regarding safety requirements, "normal use, " and the events on the day of the accident, [16] objections to Mr. Hutter's opinions and speculations regarding possible alternative designs, [17] and objections to the admission of Mr. Hutter's testing of the SSK-4T ladder in question.[18] These three broad categories are addressed in turn.

1. Objections to Mr. Hutter's Speculations regarding safety requirements, "normal use, " and the accident.

Many of the issues raised Tricam's original motions in limine, which are listed in the proposed pre-trial order, [19] are not mentioned in Tricam's condensed, partial Daubert motion, specifically motions 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10. Though we could find these motions to have been waived, we nonetheless address them as though they were included.

Tricam's initial motions in limine 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 14, and 32 all concern either ANSI or OSHA safety standards, what actions and assumptions would be "reasonable" or "normal" for a user or for McFarland on the day of the accident, and what actions would be required of a manufacturer or designer to ensure the safety of its products. Tricam is concerned that Mr. Hutter is not qualified to dispense opinions or speculations about what is safe and reasonable, how a typical customer would use a ladder, and what a manufacturer can do to keep its products safe. These concerns are easily dispensed. Mr. Hutter's qualifications as a safety professional are overwhelming: he is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP), a member of the safety committee for the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association International (FMA), the current chair of the National Safety Council's AMPS Committee, a longtime educator of safety requirements and "human factors, "[20] and he holds a Ph.D. in Environmental and Occupational Health Studies.[21] If anyone is to be expected to understand what is safe, what is required by ANSI and OSHA standards, and how a typical human interacts with his environment, it is Mr. Hutter. Furthermore, there seems to be no "analytical gap" between Mr. Hutter's foundation of knowledge and experience and his conclusions large enough to trigger the requirement to exclude. Mr. Hutter's conclusions are not far-fetched, and he consistently points to OSHA and ANSI standards, as well as a host of other generally accepted ...


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