Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Sardis v. Overhead Door Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

February 12, 2019

ANDREA SARDIS, as Administrator of the Estate of EVANGELOS SARDIS, Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
OVERHEAD DOOR CORPORATION, Defendant.

          OPINION

          JOHN A. GIBNEY, JR. JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on a number of pending motions in this case. The plaintiff[1] and the defendant, Overhead Door Corporation, have moved to exclude experts and specific testimony. (Dk. Nos. 28, 30, 39, 41, 45, 47, 48, 50, 52.) Overhead Door has also moved for summary judgment. (Dk. No. 43.) The Court held hearings on the motions on November 20, 2018, and December 7, 2018, and will now address each motion in turn.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Overhead Door designs and manufactures garage doors. Its commercial garage doors roll around a shaft at the top of the doorway behind a metal hood. Because Overhead Door manufactures the hoods in separate sections, it ships sections of the hoods to distributors in cardboard crates, [2] which it also designs and manufactures. Overhead Door ships up to three hood sections per crate, resulting in a maximum weight of approximately 300 pounds per crate.

         In December, 2014, Overhead Door changed its crate design to a triple-wall cardboard body with wooden endcaps. The endcaps have one horizontal and two vertical boards, forming a "U" shape. Five smaller horizontal boards, or "slats," connect the two vertical boards. The endcaps have a gap between the first and second slat, which creates a handhold.

         Sardis worked for the Overhead Door distributor Washington Overhead Door ("WOD"). In June, 2016, Sardis and his supervisor, Keith Lawrence, were working at a jobsite when two other WOD employees arrived with a hood in their flatbed truck. Sardis and Lawrence received instructions to transfer the hood to the metal roof rack on Lawrence's truck so that the men could take it to another site for installation. Sardis, Lawrence, and the two employees moved the crate from the flatbed truck to Lawrence's roof rack. Sardis and Lawrence then drove the crate to the installation site.

         At the installation site, Sardis and Lawrence tried to remove the hoods from the truck separately. Because they could not remove the hoods without damaging them, Lawrence called for a forklift. Two other WOD employees arrived with the forklift. Lawrence and another employee struggled to operate the forklift, and the crate tipped toward the truck cab each time they tried to move it. Sardis then climbed onto an extension ladder on top of the truck. Sardis pulled on the handhold of the crate, and the slat came off the wooden endcap. He then fell off the truck and hit the asphalt with the back of his head. Sardis died fourteen days later in the hospital.

         The plaintiff has sued Overhead Door, alleging (1) wrongful death - negligence; (2) wrongful death - design defect; (3) breach of implied warranty; and (4) failure to warn.[3] The plaintiff and Overhead Door have moved to exclude experts and specific testimony. Overhead Door has also moved for summary judgment.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Daubert Motions

         Federal Rule of Evidence 702 governs the admissibility of expert testimony. A witness who qualifies as an expert may provide opinion testimony only if "the expert's 'specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a basic fact in issue;' and the testimony is 'based on sufficient facts or data;' 'is the product of reliable principles and methods;' and 'the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.'" Carter v. United States, No. 4:13-cv-112, 2014 WL 3895751, at *3 (E.D. Va. 2014) (quoting Fed.R.Evid. 702). District courts act as "gatekeeper[s]" to ensure that proffered testimony is reliable, relevant, and will assist the trier of fact. Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., 509 U.S. 579, 589-93(1993).

         Daubert sets forth a two-prong test for admissible expert testimony: "(1) the expert testimony must consist of 'scientific knowledge'-that is, the testimony must be supported by appropriate validation; and (2) the evidence or testimony must 'assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.'" Carter, 2014 WL 3895751, at *3 (quoting United States v. Dorsey, 45 F.3d 809, 813 (4th Cir. 1995)). "The proponent of the expert testimony bears the burden of proving that both prongs are met by a preponderance of the evidence." Id.

         Under the first Daubert prong, courts consider the reasoning and methodology of the testimony. 509 U.S. at 592-93. The expert must base his testimony on specialized knowledge, rather than mere belief or speculation. Oglesby v. Gen. Motors Corp., 190 F.3d 244, 250 (4th Cir. 1999). District courts have "considerable leeway in deciding in a particular case how to go about determining whether particular expert testimony is reliable." Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 152 (1999). Daubert sets forth the following factors to assist courts in determining reliability:

(1) whether a theory or technique can be or has been tested; (2) whether it has been subjected to peer review and publication; (3) whether a technique has a high known or potential rate of error and whether there are standards controlling its operation; and (4) whether the theory or technique enjoys general acceptance within a relevant scientific community.

Cooper v. Smith & Nephew, Inc., 259 F.3d 194, 199 (citing Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592-94).

         Under the second Daubert prong, courts determine whether the expert's reasoning is "relevant to the task at hand." 509 U.S. at 597. "Rule 702 makes inadmissible expert testimony as to a matter which obviously is within the common knowledge of jurors because such testimony, almost by definition, can be of no assistance." Scott v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 789 F.2d 1052, 1055 (4th Cir. 1986).

         1. Michael S. Wosalter. Ph.D.

         The plaintiff retained Michael S. Wogalter, Ph.D., to testify that (1) the gap between the first and second slats on the crate creates a handhold; (2) Overhead Door should have provided warnings and instructions about how to use the handhold; and (3) Overhead Door failed to conduct the appropriate testing or analysis to identify defects in the crates. The parties have stipulated that the gap is a handhold, so the Court will exclude that portion of Wogalter's testimony.

         Wogalter, however, may testify that Overhead Door should have provided warnings and instructions about how to use the handhold and that Overhead Door did not conduct the appropriate testing or analysis to identify defects in the crates.[4] Overhead Door raises legitimate concerns as to some of Wogalter's opinions, but those concerns "are properly reserved for cross-examination, and do not justify the wholesale exclusion of [Wogalter's] testimony." United States v. Aman, 748 F.Supp.2d 531, 536 (E.D. Va. 2010); see also, e.g., Tomsk v. Real Flame Co., No. 9:15-cv-78, 2016 WL 9558957, at *7 (E.D. Tex. Dec. 21, 2016) (finding Wogalter's testimony relevant and reliable in a dispute regarding the sufficiency of a warning label). Accordingly, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the motion to exclude Wogalter.

         2. RichardS. Epstein. M.D.

         The plaintiff retained Richard S. Epstein, M.D., a psychiatrist, to provide testimony regarding (1) the plaintiffs mental health injuries and damages and (2) the plaintiffs future mental health care needs. Courts typically classify such an expert as a "grief expert." Courts have "wide discretion" to decide on a case-by-case basis whether a grief expert's testimony "is unique and non-cumulative," and would "assist the trier of fact in [its] determination." Carter, 2014 WL 3895751, at *4.

         In this case, the plaintiff cannot call a doctor to explain the grief that she and her son suffer, how long they will need to recover, and the amount of counseling they will need. These matters "can be left to turn mainly upon the good sense and deliberate judgment of the trier," id, so calling Epstein as an expert is simply an attempt to put a patina of science over something that everyone understands. Accordingly, the Court will grant Overhead Door's motion to exclude Epstein and evidence regarding the plaintiffs future medical care.

         3. Sher Paul Simh. PkD.

         Overhead Door objects to the plaintiffs packaging design expert, Sher Paul Singh, Ph.D., primarily disputing Singh's conclusion that the crate was unreasonably dangerous because it did not comply with the industry standard of ASTM D6039.[5] Overhead Door says that Singh failed to test the crate before his analysis, so his opinion has no reliable scientific basis. "[A] lack of testing," however, "affects the weight of the evidence," not its admissibility.[6] Bilenky v. Ryobi Ltd., No. 2:13cv345, 2014 WL 7530365, at *4 (E.D. Va. Dec. 5, 2014). Overhead Door may properly attack Singh's conclusions "by [v]igorous cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and careful instruction on the burden of proof." Pugh v. Louisville Ladder, Inc., 361 Fed.Appx. 448, 452 (4th Cir. 2010).

         Singh, however, cannot testify that Overhead Door "failed to communicate to users that the openings were not meant to be used as hand holes." (Dk. No. 46-3, at 2.) As explained above, the parties agree that the handhold is a handhold. The Court, therefore, will grant in part and deny in part the motion to exclude Singh.

         4. Marshall S. White. Ph.D.

         Overhead Door retained Marshall S. White, Ph.D., to testify regarding the cause of the handhold's failure. The plaintiff attacks the reliability of White's testimony as unreliable and based on speculation because White never tested his theories. Although White's opinions involve some level of estimation, this goes, at best, to the weight of his testimony, not its ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.