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Timm v. Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America, Ltd.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 6, 2019

Donald N. Timm and Mary K. Timm, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America, Ltd., an Ohio-based Corporation, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued April 5, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. No. 2:14-cv-232 - Philip P. Simon, Judge.

          Before Flaum, Kanne, and Scudder, Circuit Judges.

          SCUDDER, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Donald and Mary Timm sustained serious injuries in a horrific motorcycle accident. Believing defects with the motorcycle and its rear tire caused the accident-and that their injuries were especially severe because of a defect with their helmets-the Timms brought a products liability action under Indiana law against numerous defendants involved in the sale and manufacture of the motorcycle, its rear tire, and the helmets they wore at the time of the accident. Concluding that the Timms failed to present admissible expert testimony to support their claims, the district court entered summary judgment for the defendants. We affirm.

         I

         On July 10, 2013, Donald and Mary Timm set off on a cross-country trip on their Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic. The Timms intended to drive from their home in Dyer, Indiana to Salt Lake City, Utah. While crossing Nebraska, the couple suffered a catastrophic accident when the motorcycle's rear tire sustained a puncture and rapidly deflated, leading Donald to lose control of the motorcycle and crash into a concrete median barrier. Mary flew off the motorcycle while Donald remained attached to the bike as it slid along the highway. Though both riders were wearing helmets, each sustained serious head injuries. In addition to suffering a traumatic brain injury, Donald sustained facial fractures and a cervical spine injury.

         A few months later, the Timms received notice that the helmets they were wearing at the time of the accident-Ultra Low Profile Outlaw Motorcycle Half Helmets-were recalled. The Timms purchased the helmets two years earlier. Mary purchased her helmet through a website called LeatherUp.com (owned by Nanal, Inc.). Donald purchased his helmet through a different internet retailer, which is not a party to this suit. A company named Tegol imported and distributed both helmets. In its recall notice, Tegol explained that the Outlaw helmets failed to conform to certain Department of Transportation standards and warned that riders "may not be adequately protected in the event of a crash."

          The Timms then brought a products liability action against Tegol, Nanal, and fourteen other corporate and individual defendants involved in the manufacture, distribution, and sale of Outlaw helmets (which we will collectively call the helmet defendants). Advancing claims under the Indiana Products Liability Act, the Timms alleged that their injuries would have been less severe had their helmets complied with federal safety standards and that the helmet defendants were negligent in their recall efforts. The Timms also asserted claims against Harley-Davidson, the motorcycle manufacturer, and Goodyear Dunlop (now known as Sumitomo Rubber USA), the tire manufacturer, contending that defects in the motorcycle and rear tire caused the accident.

         Beginning with their helmets, the Timms pressed several claims, including design defect and manufacturing defect. To show that the helmets enhanced their injuries, the Timms emphasized the recall as well as the sheer severity of the injuries they sustained in the accident. But they did not present any expert testimony to show that, because of a defect with their helmets, their injuries were worse than they otherwise would have experienced in such a severe motorcycle crash. This omission, the district court concluded, was fatal to their claims because "a lay juror would not be able to distinguish between the injuries caused by the motorcycle accident and the enhanced injuries caused by the alleged defect in the helmets without engaging in speculation."

         This conclusion, the district court reasoned, found support in the fact that the helmet defendants offered their own medical expert, who opined that the Timms' injuries were the type he would expect following such a serious motorcycle accident, even if they had been wearing helmets that complied with all safety standards. The court accordingly entered summary judgment in favor of the helmet defendants on the Timms' manufacturing and design defect claims. The court also entered judgment for the defendants on the Timms' claims alleging negligent recall and failure to comply with federal safety standards, concluding that the Indiana Products Liability Act permits neither claim.

         Turning to the allegations against Harley-Davidson and Goodyear, the Timms asserted that the motorcycle's rear tire (a Dunlop D4O2 tire) was defective and unreasonably dangerous because, following a puncture, it allowed for both excessive air leakage and the tire to unseat-or come free-from its rim. These defects, they maintained, caused Mr. Timm to lose control of the motorcycle and crash. The Timms further alleged that the motorcycle itself was defectively designed because it lacked a tire pressure monitoring system, which would have alerted Donald to the sudden loss of air in the tire before he lost control. To support these claims, the Timms proposed two experts: William Woehrle, a tire specialist, and Dr. Daniel Lee, an accident reconstructionist. In his report, Woehrle opined on how and when the tire became unseated from the rim and the need for a tire pressure monitoring system. Dr. Lee likewise sought to testify about the ultimate cause of the accident and to share his opinion that every motorcycle should be equipped with a tire pressure monitoring system.

         Harley-Davidson and Goodyear filed motions to exclude Woehrle's and Lee's opinions, arguing they lacked the reliability required by Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). Following a hearing, the district court agreed. The court concluded that Woehrle's opinion that manufacturing defects caused the tire to unseat from the rim upon being punctured "appear[ed] to be based on nothing more than his subjective belief and unsupported speculation/' and thus "fail[ed] to adhere to any of the Daubert guideposts." The court also excluded Woehrle's opinion on the tire pressure monitoring system, reasoning that while Woehrle had expertise with respect to tires, he lacked qualifications related to motorcycles more generally. The district court judge also determined that Woehrle's opinions failed to comport with Rule 702 "because they [were] not based on scientifically valid methodologies."

         The court similarly excluded Dr. Lee's testimony, finding that he lacked tire-related qualifications, and, in any event, his methodology with respect to both the tire defects and the tire pressure ...


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