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Yates v. Ford Motor Co.

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

May 29, 2015

GRAHAM YATES and BECKY YATES, Plaintiffs,
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY and HONEYWELL INTERNATIONAL, INC., Defendants.

ORDER

LOUISE W. FLANAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This matter comes now before the court on defendant Ford Motor Company’s (“Ford”) motion in limine to exclude expert testimony regarding corporate conduct (DE 291), which has been joined by defendant Honeywell International, Inc. (“Honeywell”) (DE 360). The motion has been fully briefed, and is ripe for ruling as set forth below.[1]

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs allege that Graham Yates was exposed to brake dust from brakes manufactured or supplied by defendant Honeywell’s predecessor, The Bendix Corporation (“Bendix”). They allege that Graham Yates was exposed to asbestos from Bendix brakes as a gas station attendant from 1956 to 1957, from brake jobs performed on personal vehicles in the 1950s and 1960, and from working as a clerk in an automobile parts warehouse from 1961 to 1962. Plaintiffs also allege that Graham Yates was exposed to defendant Ford’s products while working as a gas station attendant in 1956 and 1957, and while working as a parts salesman and delivery driver for an independent Ford dealership in 1960. These exposures allegedly caused Graham Yates’s mesothelioma, diagnosed August 13, 2012.

COURT’S DISCUSSION

Defendant Ford moves for order prohibiting plaintiffs’ experts from opining on whether Ford’s corporate conduct in utilizing asbestos-containing friction components was reasonable, whether Ford knew the dangers of asbestos, and/or whether defendant Ford’s warnings were reasonable. Defendant Ford asserts that plaintiffs’ experts should be precluded on opining on such issues

regardless of how Plaintiffs’ questions or their experts opinions may be worded. For instance, other examples of impermissible ‘expert’ opinions regarding Ford’s corporate conduct might include: i) opinions as to whether Ford’s corporate actions were or were not in accordance with principles of public health or appropriate for the protection of employees and end-users of products; ii) whether or not Ford should have undertaken different or additional actions to investigate or analyze the dangers of asbestos; and iii) whether or not Ford should have included different or additional warnings regarding asbestos-containing components.

(Ford’s Memo. In Supp., 4) (DE 292).

The evidence is challenged under Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and 403. The court considers each rule in turn.

1. Rule 702

Defendant Ford first asserts that plaintiffs’ experts are not qualified to offer opinions regarding corporate conduct because they do not have scientific, technical, or specialized knowledge regarding the management of an automobile company or the manufacture or design of automobile parts.

The proponent of expert testimony must establish its admissibility by a preponderance of the proof. Cooper v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 259 F.3d 194, 199 (4th Cir. 2001). “Unlike an ordinary witness . . . an expert is permitted wide latitude to offer opinions.” Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 592 (1993). This relaxation of the permissible boundaries of testimony “is premised on an assumption that the expert’s opinion will have a reliable basis in the knowledge and experience of his discipline.” Id. Accordingly, in order to offer such opinions, a witness must be “qualified as an expert.” Fed.R.Evid. 702. Rule 702 provides five ways in which a witness may qualify as an expert: knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education. Kumho Tire v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 147 (1999). When an expert’s qualifications are challenged, “ ‘the test for exclusion is a strict one, and the purported expert must have neither satisfactory knowledge, skill, experience, training nor education on the issue for which the opinion is proffered.’ ” Kopf v. Skyrm, 993 F.2d 374, 377 (4th Cir. 1993) (quoting Thomas J. Kline, Inc. v. Lorillard, Inc., 878 F.2d 791, 799 (4th Cir.1989)). Experts may offer opinions when “the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.” Fed.R.Evid. 702. “Testimony from an expert is presumed to be helpful.” Kopf, 993 F.2d at 377. “The subject matter of Rule 702 testimony need not be arcane or even especially difficult to comprehend. If . . . . the proposed testimony will recount or employ ‘scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge, ’ it is a proper subject.” Id.

As an initial matter, plaintiffs’ response only addresses the qualifications of two of their three experts, Eugene Mark, M.D., (“Mark”) and Steve Hays (“Hays”). Hays is a professional engineer and certified industrial hygienist. Thus, plaintiffs have not carried their burden to show that their third witness, Arnold Brody, Ph.D., (“Brody”), may make statements on corporate conduct. In this respect, defendant Ford’s motion is granted.

Plaintiffs forecast that Mark and Hays will be asked to opine on issues concerning the following:

• The state of medical and scientific knowledge about the hazards of asbestos products at various times, including the manipulation of brake linings;
• The state of medical and scientific knowledge about how to prevent asbestos disease at those times; in comparison with
• The information about those hazards contained in defendants’ historical documents and in testimony by defendants’ corporate witnesses, for the purpose of
• Testifying as to the timeliness and adequacy of defendants’ actions in preventing plaintiff Graham Yates’s mesothelioma.

(Pls’. Resp., 2-3) (DE 322).

Plaintiffs further indicate that Mark will be asked to opine on whether defendant met “the known standard of care in medicine, ” while Hays will be asked to opine on whether defendants met “the known standard of care in . . . industrial hygiene.” (Pls’. Resp., 3).

The court will address each of the subjects on which plaintiffs seek to offer expert opinion testimony, ...


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