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Pitterman v. General Motors LLC

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

April 29, 2016

BERNARD PITTERMAN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
GENERAL MOTORS LLC, Defendant.

RULING RE: DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. NO. 59); MOTION TO PRECLUDE EXPERT TESTIMONY OF SGT. MICHAEL R. O’BRIEN (DOC. NO. 63); MOTION TO PRECLUDE PRIMARY EXPERT TESTIMONY OF L. WAYNE MCCRACKEN, JR. (DOC. NO. 65); MOTION TO STRIKE PLAINTIFFS’ EXHIBIT O (ECF 95-15) ON SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTION (DOC. NO. 103)

JANET C. HALL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

I. INTRODUCTION

This case arises out of events that occurred on July 13, 2011, when M.R.O, an 8-year-old child, died in connection with an automobile accident involving a 2004 Chevrolet Suburban, which is manufactured by the defendant General Motors LLC (“GM”). The plaintiffs in this case are: (1) Bernard Pitterman, as administrator of the Estate of M.R.O.; (2) Bernard Pitterman, as guardian of the Estate of G.O., who is the victim’s brother; and, (3) Rose O’Connor, who is the victim’s mother (plaintiffs will be referred to, collectively, as “Pitterman”).

The initial Complaint (Doc. No. 1) (“Compl.”) was filed in Connecticut state court and subsequently timely removed by GM. See Notice of Removal (Doc. No. 1). On October 5, 2015, Pitterman filed a six-count Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 88) (“Am. Compl.”). Pitterman subsequently withdrew Counts 4, 5, and 6 of the Amended Complaint.[1] The three remaining counts - one per plaintiff - allege that GM violated C.G.S.A. §§ 52-572m et seq., by distributing the 2004 Suburban in a defective condition and by not providing adequate instructions or warnings regarding the alleged defect.

Pitterman seeks to introduce expert testimony from Detective Sergeant Michael R. O’Brien of the Brookfield Police Department, who Pitterman asserts is an expert is the field of “Accident Investigation / Reconstruction.” See Affidavit of Paul E.D. Darsow Ex. N (Doc. No. 62-14). Pitterman also seeks to introduce expert testimony from L. Wayne McCracken, Jr., an engineer who would testify “with respect to his reconstruction of the collision and his opinions regarding the design and function of the Brake Transmission Shift Interlock on the [2004 Suburban].” Id. Ex. Q (Doc. No. 62-17).

GM has moved to exclude both O’Brien and McCracken’s expert testimony. See Motion of GM to Exclude Expert Testimony by Detective Sergeant Michael R. O’Brien (Doc. No. 63); GM’s Motion to Exclude Primary Expert Testimony by L. Wayne McCracken, Jr. (Doc. No. 65). GM has also moved for summary judgment as to all of Pitterman’s claims. See Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 59).

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND[2]

Although a case’s underlying facts generally play a significant role in the court’s assessment of a Motion for Summary Judgment, this case presents a somewhat unusual situation in which there are numerous facts in dispute, none of which impacts the court’s resolution of GM’s Motion for Summary Judgment. This is because GM’s Motion for Summary Judgment rests on its assertion that O’Brien and McCracken’s expert testimony is inadmissible, see GM’s Memorandum in Support of Its Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 61) (“GM’s MFSJ Mem. in Supp.”), which is a question of law. See Fed.R.Evid. 104(a); Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 592 (1993); Strauss v. Credit Lyonnais, S.A., 925 F.Supp.2d 414, 437 (E.D.N.Y. 2013) (“Federal Rule of Evidence 104(a) provides that the admissibility of expert testimony is a preliminary question of law for the court to determine”). GM argues that, if the expert testimony proffered by Pitterman is inadmissible, Pitterman will be, as a matter of law, incapable of proving “the product defect and causation elements of [his] product liability claims.” GM’s MFSJ Mem. in Supp. at 2. Pitterman, on the other hand, argues that expert testimony is not required to prove his product liability claims and that, even if expert testimony is required, both O’Brien and McCracken’s testimony is admissible. See Plaintiffs’ Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment at 1 (Doc. No. 95) (“Pls.’ MFSJ Opp’n”).

The following facts are relevant to the instant Ruling. O’Brien was the officer placed “in charge of the investigation into M.R.O.’s death.” GM’s Local Rule 56(a)(1) Statement ¶ 69 (Doc. No. 60) (“GM’s L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt.”); see also Plaintiffs’ Local Rule 56(a)(2) Statement ¶ 69 (Doc. No. 96) (“Pls.’ L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt.”). O’Brien authored a “Supplemental Report” in which he concluded what was the “most likely scenario” in the incident that resulted in M.R.O.’s death. See Affidavit of Paul E.D. Darsow Ex. M at 4 (Doc. No. 62-13) (“O’Brien Report”).

McCracken authored two reports, the latter of which amended and supplemented his original report. See id. Ex. Q (Doc. No. 62-17) (“McCracken Report”); id. Ex. R (Doc. No. 62-18) (“Am. McCracken Report”). The Amended McCracken Report is divided into two sections: “Accident Reconstruction” (henceforth referred to as the “causation opinion”) and “Brake Shift Interlock”[3] (henceforth referred to as the “product defect opinion”). Neither of McCracken’s Reports touches on or includes opinions regarding the adequacy of any warnings GM might have provided about the allegedly defective condition. See GM’s L.R. 56(a)(1) Stmt. ¶ 93; see also Pls.’ L.R. 56(a)(2) Stmt. ¶ 93.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

A. Motion for Summary Judgment

On a motion for summary judgment, the burden is on the moving party to establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986); White v. ABCO Engineering Corp., 221 F.3d 293, 300 (2d Cir. 2000). Once the moving party has met its burden, in order to defeat the motion the nonmoving party must “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial, ” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256, and present such evidence as would allow a jury to find in his favor, see Graham v. Long Island R.R., 230 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 2000).

In assessing the record to address questions of fact, the trial court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought. Graham, 230 F.3d at 38. Summary judgment “is properly granted only when no rational finder of fact could find in favor of the non-moving party.” Carlton v. Mystic Transp., Inc., 202 F.3d 129, 134 (2d Cir. 2000). “When reasonable persons, applying the proper legal standards, could differ in their responses to the question” raised, on the basis of the evidence presented, the question must be left to the finder of fact. Sologub v. City of New York, 202 F.3d 175, 178 (2d Cir. 2000).

B. Motion to Exclude Expert Testimony

A witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if: (a) 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; (b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data; (c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and (d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

Fed. R. Evid. 702. The Supreme Court has articulated four factors courts may look to when assessing the reliability of an expert: (1) “whether a theory or technique . . . can be (and has been) tested”; (2) “whether a theory or technique has been subjected to peer review and publication”; (3) “the known or potential rate of error” of a technique; and, (4) the “general acceptance” of a theory within the “relevant scientific community.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 593-94. However, these factors “do not constitute a definitive checklist or test.” Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 150 (1999) (emphasis in the original). Rather, the court’s “gatekeeping inquiry must be tied to the facts of a particular case, ” and “the factors identified in Daubert may or ...


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