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McLelland v. Ridge Tool Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Texarkana Division

August 13, 2018

BUBBA MCLELLAND PLAINTIFF
v.
RIDGE TOOL COMPANY, d/b/a RIDGID DEFENDANT

          ORDER

          Susan O. Hickey United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant Ridge Tool Company's Motion to Exclude the Testimony of Plaintiff's Expert, Mr. Don R. Johnston. (ECF No. 34). Plaintiff Bubba McLelland filed a response. (ECF No. 46). Defendant filed a reply. (ECF No. 48). The Court finds the matter ripe for consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This products liability case arises from an accident that occurred in Lewisville, Arkansas, on February 15, 2014. Defendant manufactures the Ridgid K-750 Drain Cleaning Machine (“K-750”), a drum-style cleaning machine used by professionals for cleaning drain pipes. Plaintiff, a master plumber, alleges that while operating a K-750 to clear a clogged drain line in Lewisville, Arkansas, the cable broke without warning and struck him in the face, causing injuries and damages. Plaintiff asserts three strict product liability claims against Defendant: failure to warn, manufacturing defect, and design defect.

         On October 24, 2017, Plaintiff disclosed Don R. Johnston as his liability expert. On February 13, 2018, Defendant took Mr. Johnston's deposition. In short, Mr. Johnston opines that Defendant was aware of the K-750's issue with breaking cables and that other models of drain cleaning machines manufactured by Defendant feature either a cable-control system to prevent breaks or audible and visual warning indicators to warn the operator of an impending break. (ECF No. 35-1). Mr. Johnston states that Defendant could have prevented Plaintiff's injuries by implementing either of these alternative safety features on the K-750, but that it failed to do so.

         On June 11, 2018, Defendant filed the instant motion. Defendant argues that the Court should exclude the testimony and opinions of Mr. Johnston on various grounds. Specifically, Defendant argues that Mr. Johnston is unqualified to serve as an expert witness in this case, that Mr. Johnston's methodology is unreliable and is not scientific, and that Mr. Johnston's opinions are so speculative that they would not assist the jury. Plaintiff opposes the motion.

         II. DISCUSSION

         It is the duty of the Court to decide “any preliminary question about whether . . . evidence is admissible.” Fed.R.Evid. 104(a). The Court's starting point for determining the admissibility of expert testimony is Federal Rule of Evidence 702, which provides a three-part test:

First, evidence based on scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge must be useful to the finder of fact in deciding the ultimate issue of fact. This is the basic rule of relevancy. Second, the proposed witness must be qualified to assist the finder of fact. Third, the proposed evidence must be reliable or trustworthy in an evidentiary sense, so that, if the finder of fact accepts it as true, it provides the assistance the finder of fact requires.

Lauzon v. Senco Prods., Inc., 270 F.3d 681, 686 (8th Cir. 2001) (internal citations and quotations omitted). The United States Supreme Court has emphasized the district court's gatekeeper role when screening expert testimony for relevance and reliability. Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 591-93 (1993).

         Expert testimony is inadmissible only if it is speculative, unsupported by sufficient facts, or contrary to the facts of the case. Concord Boat Corp. v. Brunswick Corp., 207 F.3d 1039, 1056-57 (8th Cir. 2000). When analyzing an expert's testimony, the court must focus on the principles and methodology employed by the expert, and not on the conclusions generated by the expert. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 594. “Courts should resolve doubts regarding the usefulness of an expert's testimony in favor of admissibility.” Marmo v. Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., 457 F.3d 748, 758 (8th Cir. 2006); see also Polski v. Quigley Corp., 538 F.3d 836, 838 (8th Cir. 2008) (“Rule 702 reflects an attempt to liberalize the rules governing the admission of expert testimony. The rule clearly is one of admissibility rather than exclusion.”). “Only if the expert's opinion is so fundamentally unsupported that it can offer no assistance to the jury must such testimony be excluded.” Bonner v. ISP Techs, Inc., 259 F.3d 924, 929-30 (8th Cir. 2001).

         As discussed above, Defendant argues that the Court should exclude Mr. Johnston's opinions and testimony because he is unqualified to serve as an expert witness in this case, his methodology is unreliable and is not scientific, and his opinions are so speculative that they would not assist the jury. The Court will address each of these arguments in turn.

         A. Qualification to Serve as Expert

         Defendant argues that Mr. Johnston is unqualified to serve as an expert witness in this matter. Specifically, Defendant argues that Mr. Johnston does not possess the knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education required to testify as an expert under ...


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