Assocs. v. Daewoo Electronics America, No. 06-339.

Docket NºNo. 06-339.
Citation2008 VT 14, 945 A.2d 381
Case DateFebruary 08, 2008
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont
945 A.2d 381
2008 VT 14
985 ASSOCIATES, LTD., Kristen Uroskie-Lewis, and Travelers Indemnity Company
v.
DAEWOO ELECTRONICS AMERICA, INC. f/k/a Daewoo Electronics Corp. of America.
No. 06-339.
Supreme Court of Vermont.
February 8, 2008.

[945 A.2d 382]

Thomas C. Nuovo of Bauer, Gravel, Farnham, Nuovo, Parker & Lang, Burlington, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

Walter E. Judge, Jr. of Downs Rachlin Martin, PLLC, Burlington, for Defendant-Appellee.

Present: REIBER, C.J., DOOLEY, JOHNSON, SKOGLUND and BURGESS, JJ.

¶ 1. JOHNSON, J.


This products liability action arose out of a kitchen fire in the apartment of plaintiff Kristen Uroskie-Lewis. Plaintiffs alleged that a defective microwave, manufactured by defendant, was the cause of the fire and sought to introduce testimony of two fire investigation experts on the issue of causation. The trial court granted defendant's pretrial motion to exclude the expert testimony, finding that it was unreliable and therefore inadmissible under Vermont Rule of Evidence 702, and subsequently granted summary judgment to defendant. Plaintiffs appeal, claiming that the trial court abused its discretion in ruling that the opinions of its experts did not meet the minimum requirements of Rule 702. We agree that the trial court abused its discretion, given the standards articulated in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993), and adopted by this Court, and reverse.

¶ 2. On December 13, 2000, a fire broke out in the kitchen of plaintiff Uroskie-Lewis's apartment. No one was, in the building at the time the fire ignited, and there were no resulting injuries. The Burlington Fire Department (BFD) responded to the scene, investigated the origin of the fire, and issued a report. The parties agree that the fire originated in the rear left corner of the kitchen in the area of an electrical outlet, and plaintiff Uroskie-Lewis testified that the microwave was the only appliance plugged into that outlet. Based on its investigation, the BFD reported the logical cause of the fire to be an "are in [the] steel receptacle box/or defect in [the] microwave."

¶ 3. Plaintiff 985 Associates, Ltd., the owner of the building, initiated this action in August 2003, seeking to recover damages from defendant. Plaintiff Uroskie-Lewis and her insurer, plaintiff Travelers Indemnity Company, intervened in the suit seeking damages from the fire as well. During the course of litigation, plaintiffs produced the reports of their two experts, Timothy Austin of New England Fire Cause & Origin, Inc. and Nathaniel Johnson of Winnipesaukee Associates, who concluded that the microwave was the cause of the fire. Defendant filed a motion to compel plaintiffs to answer certain interrogatories more fully, and therein challenged plaintiffs' experts' opinions on the grounds that neither identified a specific defect in the microwave. The trial court, Judge Katz presiding, denied the motion, stating that, based on the expert evidence, an "inference of defect may be drawn." Defendant then moved for summary judgment on the same grounds. Plaintiffs responded with a cross-motion for summary judgment. The court denied both motions, finding that the existence of a defect in the microwave was an issue of material fact and that neither party was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

945 A.2d 383

¶ 4. In January 2005, defendant filed a Daubert motion seeking to exclude plaintiffs' experts. The court, Judge Norton presiding, denied the motion after hearing in April 2005. Discovery concluded in early December 2005, and jury draw was set for the following month. At the pretrial conference before Judge Joseph in December, defendant apprised the court of its intention to file a motion in limine to exclude plaintiffs' experts under Daubert. The parties were ordered to file memoranda on the admissibility of the expert opinions, and on January 9, 2006, the court granted defendant's motion to exclude the experts. Plaintiffs filed a motion to reconsider, which was denied by the court on May 1, 2006. As plaintiffs no longer had experts to testify on causation, defendant moved for summary judgment. On July 10, 2006, the court granted defendant's motion for summary judgment because "the plaintiffs have no expert testimony to support their claims." This appeal followed.

¶ 5. Plaintiffs' principal challenge on appeal is that the trial court's exclusion of their expert witnesses is contrary to the standards for admission of expert testimony articulated by the United States Supreme Court in Daubert and adopted by this Court in State v. Brooks, 162 Vt. 26, 643 A.2d 226 (1993). Plaintiffs further contend that the trial court abused its discretion in controlling the discovery process. Specifically, plaintiffs claim that the court should have granted their motion for summary judgment because defendant did not timely respond to their requests to admit that a defect in the microwave caused the fire. Alternatively, they argue that the court should have granted plaintiffs' motion to compel defendant to disclose its experts in a more timely manner.

¶ 6. We begin by considering the admissibility of plaintiffs' expert testimony under Vermont Rule of Evidence 702. Under Rule 702, a qualified expert is allowed to testify if his or her testimony "assist[s] the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue," and if:

(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.

In Brooks, we noted that our rules of evidence are "essentially identical" to the federal rules and held that we should therefore apply the federal principles governing admissibility of expert testimony. 162 Vt. at 30, 643 A.2d at 229. Prior to our holding in Brooks, the United States Supreme Court decided, in Daubert, 509 U.S. at 586, 592-93, 113 S.Ct. 2786, that Federal Rule of Evidence 702 superseded the traditional test for admission of expert testimony established by Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013, 1014 (D.C.Cir.1923). Under the Frye test, novel scientific evidence in the form of expert opinion was admissible only if "the scientific principles supporting the evidence had gained general acceptance in the relevant scientific community." USGen New England, Inc. v. Town of Rockingham, 2004 VT 90, ¶ 15, 177 Vt. 193, 862 A.2d 269. The Daubert Court held that Rule 702 replaced the Frye test, creating instead a flexible standard requiring only that expert testimony be both relevant and reliable to be admissible. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 588-89, 113 S.Ct. 2786. Following Daubert and our adoption of its analysis, trial judges in Vermont "must now act as gatekeepers who screen expert testimony ensuring that it is reliable and helpful to the issue at hand before the jury hears it." USGen, 2004 VT 90, ¶ 19, 177 Vt. 193, 862 A.2d 269.

945 A.2d 384

¶ 7. In two later decisions, General Electric Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 118 S.Ct. 512, 139 L.Ed.2d 508 (1997), and Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 119 S.Ct. 1167, 143 L.Ed.2d 238 (1999), the Supreme Court attempted to further clarify the Rule 702 admissibility standards first articulated in Daubert. In Joiner, the Court held that despite the liberal standard for admissibility under Daubert, like other evidentiary rulings, a trial court's decision to admit or exclude expert testimony is reviewable only for abuse of discretion. 522 U.S. at 143, 118 S.Ct. 512. Shortly thereafter, the Court in Kumho rejected the Eleventh Circuit's refusal to apply the Daubert analysis to an expert whose opinion was based on technical rather than scientific knowledge. 526 U.S. at 151, 119...

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29 practice notes
  • Montgomery Mut. Ins. Co. v. Chesson, No. 2454
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 29 de agosto de 2012
    ...272, 280 (S.D.2009); Nations v. State, 944 S.W.2d 795, 796–97 (Tex.App.1997); 985 Assocs., Ltd. v. Daewoo Elecs. Am., Inc., 183 Vt. 208, 945 A.2d 381, 383 (Vt.2008); San Francisco v. Wendy's Int'l, Inc., 221 W.Va. 734, 656 S.E.2d 485, 492–96 (2007); Cooper v. State, 174 P.3d 726, 728 (Wyo.2......
  • EST. OF GEORGE v. LEAGUE OF CITIES & TOWNS, No. 08-374.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • 15 de janeiro de 2010
    ...be determined by trial court); V.R.E. 402 (evidence that is not relevant is not admissible); 985 Assocs., Ltd. v. Daewoo Elecs. Am., Inc., 2008 VT 14, ¶ 6, 183 Vt. 208, 945 A.2d 381 (trial judges must "act as gatekeepers who screen expert testimony ensuring that it is reliable and help......
  • State v. Kolts, No. 17-291
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • 14 de dezembro de 2018
    ...ensuring that it is reliable and helpful to the issue at hand before the jury hears it." 985 Assocs., Ltd. v. Daewoo Elecs. Am., Inc., 2008 VT 14, ¶ 6, 183 Vt. 208, 945 A.2d 381 (quotation omitted). We defer to a trial court's decision on the admissibility of expert testimony, reviewin......
  • State v. Forty, No. 08-434.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • 25 de novembro de 2009
    ...and applied this framework by decision even prior to including it within Rule 702. See 985 Assocs., Ltd. v. Daewoo Elecs. Am., Inc., 2008 VT 14, ¶ 6, 183 Vt. 208, 945 A.2d 381; USGen, 2004 VT 90, ¶ 18, 177 Vt. 193, 862 A.2d 269; State v. Streich, 163 Vt. 331, 343, 658 A.2d 38, 47 (1995). Th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
29 cases
  • Montgomery Mut. Ins. Co. v. Chesson, No. 2454
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 29 de agosto de 2012
    ...272, 280 (S.D.2009); Nations v. State, 944 S.W.2d 795, 796–97 (Tex.App.1997); 985 Assocs., Ltd. v. Daewoo Elecs. Am., Inc., 183 Vt. 208, 945 A.2d 381, 383 (Vt.2008); San Francisco v. Wendy's Int'l, Inc., 221 W.Va. 734, 656 S.E.2d 485, 492–96 (2007); Cooper v. State, 174 P.3d 726, 728 (Wyo.2......
  • EST. OF GEORGE v. LEAGUE OF CITIES & TOWNS, No. 08-374.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • 15 de janeiro de 2010
    ...be determined by trial court); V.R.E. 402 (evidence that is not relevant is not admissible); 985 Assocs., Ltd. v. Daewoo Elecs. Am., Inc., 2008 VT 14, ¶ 6, 183 Vt. 208, 945 A.2d 381 (trial judges must "act as gatekeepers who screen expert testimony ensuring that it is reliable and help......
  • State v. Kolts, No. 17-291
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • 14 de dezembro de 2018
    ...ensuring that it is reliable and helpful to the issue at hand before the jury hears it." 985 Assocs., Ltd. v. Daewoo Elecs. Am., Inc., 2008 VT 14, ¶ 6, 183 Vt. 208, 945 A.2d 381 (quotation omitted). We defer to a trial court's decision on the admissibility of expert testimony, reviewin......
  • State v. Forty, No. 08-434.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • 25 de novembro de 2009
    ...and applied this framework by decision even prior to including it within Rule 702. See 985 Assocs., Ltd. v. Daewoo Elecs. Am., Inc., 2008 VT 14, ¶ 6, 183 Vt. 208, 945 A.2d 381; USGen, 2004 VT 90, ¶ 18, 177 Vt. 193, 862 A.2d 269; State v. Streich, 163 Vt. 331, 343, 658 A.2d 38, 47 (1995). Th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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