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Linhares v. Buyers Products Co.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 2, 2016



          SOROKIN, J.

         Defendant Buyers Products Company (“BPC”) has moved to exclude the opinions of John Orlowski (“Orlowski”), the expert retained by plaintiff Ronald Linhares (“Linhares”), pursuant to Fed.R.Evid. 702 and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). BPC also seeks summary judgment. Doc. No. 39. The Court DENIES the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In January 2013, Linhares was operating a self-contained stainless steel hopper spreader (“salt spreader”) to spread salt on the grounds of Charlton Memorial Hospital. Doc. No. 45 ¶ 1. At the conclusion of his work, he climbed on top of the screen covering the salt spreader mechanism and stamped on accumulated salt clumps with his boot-shod feet, in an effort to force the salt through the salt spreader's screen. Id. ¶ 2. Linhares asserts that his foot fell into an opening in the salt spreader's screen, causing him to fall and injure himself. Id. ¶¶ 2, 44, 47, 51. He filed the instant action in April 2015 against BPC, the salt spreader's manufacturer, alleging defective design. Doc. No. 1. Linhares retained Orlowski to assess the salt spreader's design. Doc. No. 34.

         The salt spreader sits in the bed of a pickup truck. Doc. No. 45 ¶ 4. The hopper of the salt spreader is covered by a screen intended to prevent large chunks of ice or salt from entering into the machine. Id. ¶ 5. The salt spreader's screen contains an opening of approximately 7 1/2 inches by 12 inches which is bisected by a beam, which itself has an opening to accommodate a hook, strap or other lifting apparatus used to install or remove the salt spreader from the pickup truck. Id. ¶ 7-11.

         In his report, Orlowski opined that the salt spreader “was defective and unreasonably dangerous in that the hopper screen contained a large open area into which one could step” and that “[t]he defective and unreasonably dangerous condition of the [salt spreader] . . . was a substantial contributing cause of Ronald Linhares [sic] injuries.” Doc. No. 34-1 at 6. Orlowski further stated that “it would have been safe and prudent to affix the hopper screen opening with a hinged cover to enclose the opening when the unit was not being lifted.” Id. at 5.


         To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the movant must demonstrate “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Once the movant “has properly supported its motion for summary judgment, the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who ‘may not rest on mere allegations or denials of [its] pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Barbour v. Dynamics Research Corp., 63 F.3d 32, 37 (1st Cir. 1995) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986)). The Court is “obliged to review the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and to draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor.” LeBlanc v. Great Am. Ins. Co., 6 F.3d 836, 841 (1st Cir. 1993). However, “conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation” will not suffice.

         Prescott v. Higgins, 538 F.3d 32, 39 (1st Cir. 2008) (quoting Medina-Muñoz v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 896 F.2d 5, 8 (1st Cir. 1990)). Summary judgment will enter “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).


         A. Exclusion of Orlowski

         BPC argues that Orlowski is not qualified to offer opinions on the design of the salt spreader, that his opinions are not based on sufficient facts or data, and that he did not reliably apply his methodology to the facts. Doc. No. 40. The Court rejects each of these arguments.

         The proponent of expert testimony bears the burden of demonstrating that the evidence satisfies Fed.R.Evid. 702 by a preponderance of the evidence, as interpreted by Daubert and its progeny. McGovern v. Brigham & Women's Hosp., 584 F.Supp.2d 418, 422 (D. Mass. 2008). An expert's testimony must “rest[] on a reliable foundation and [be] relevant to the task at hand.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 597. “The ultimate purpose of the Daubert inquiry is to determine whether the testimony of the expert would be helpful to the jury in resolving a fact in issue.” Hochen v. Bobst Group, Inc., 290 F.3d 446, 452 (1st Cir. 2002) (quoting Cipollone v. Yale Indus. Prod., Inc., 202 F.3d 376, 380 (1st Cir. 2000)).

         Rule 702 requires Linhares to show that (1) “the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, ” (2) “the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, ” and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case. Fed.R.Evid. 702. First, the Court determines if the expert's data “provides adequate support to mark the expert's testimony as reliable.” Carlucci v. CNH America LLC, No. 10-12205-DPW, 2012 WL 4094347, at * 3 (D. Mass. Sep. 14, 2012). “[N]othing in either Daubert or the Federal Rules of Evidence requires a district court to admit opinion evidence that is connected to existing data only by the ipse dixit of the expert.” General Electric Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 146 (1997). Second, to assess the reliability of the expert's principles and methods, the Court examines the reasonableness of the expert's approach and “the method of analyzing the data thereby obtained.” Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 153-54 (1999). The proffered expert must “impart[] scientific knowledge rather than ...

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