Clark v. Chrysler Corp., 102402 FED6, 97-6380

Docket Nº:97-6380
Party Name:Clark v. Chrysler Corp.
Case Date:November 02, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Dorothy Clark, Individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Charles Clark, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Chrysler Corporation, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 97-6380

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Argued: November 2, 1999

Decided and Filed:

October 24, 2002

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky at London.

No. 94-00346--Jennifer B. Coffman, District Judge.

Before: MERRITT and NELSON, Circuit Judges; OLIVER, District Judge.[*]

COUNSEL

ARGUED: Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., GIBSON, DUNN & CRUTCHER, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. Richard Hay, Somerset, Kentucky, for Appellee. ON BRIEF:Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr., Thomas H. Dupree, Jr., GIBSON, DUNN & CRUTCHER, Washington, D.C., Lawrence A. Sutter, Brian D. Sullivan, REMINGER & REMINGER, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant. Richard Hay, Somerset, Kentucky, for Appellee.

OLIVER, D. J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which MERRITT, J., joined. NELSON, J. (pp. 33-36), delivered a separate opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

OPINION

OLIVER, District Judge. Defendant-Appellant, Chrysler Corporation ("Chrysler"), appeals a jury verdict rendered against it for $235,629.13 in compensatory and $3,000,000 in punitive damages in a product liability action brought by Plaintiff-Appellee, Dorothy Clark ("Mrs. Clark"), individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Charles Clark ("Charles" or "Mr. Clark"), her deceased husband. It argues, in this lawsuit growing out of a car crash in which Mr. Clark was killed, that (1) the judgment for Mrs. Clark should be reversed and judgment entered in its favor because she failed to produce legally sufficient evidence to permit a reasonable jury to find causation and impose punitive damages or, in the alternative, (2) it should be granted a new trial because (a) the testimony of Mrs. Clark's expert witnesses was unreliable and should have been excluded by the trial court under Fed R. Evid. 702 for failure to conduct tests of the allegedly defective product or of alternative designs that could have prevented the decedent's injuries and death, (b) the trial court erroneously instructed the jury that compliance with federal safety standards "should be considered...merely as one piece of evidence on the issues in this case," rather than instructing it as required by the Kentucky Revised Statute ("KRS") § 411.310(2) that compliance with federal safety standards created a presumption that the product, a Dodge Ram truck, was not defective, and (c) the trial court erroneously allowed Mrs. Clark's expert to testify regarding other alleged incidents as evidence that the product was defective without establishing that the incidents involved were "substantially similar" to the incident in this case. For the reasons discussed herein, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

I.

Charles Clark, an owner of a small construction company, was fatally injured on October14, 1993, in an automobile accident when he and his two nephews, Freddy Clark ("Freddy") and Billy Clark ("Billy"), left a job site in Gray, Kentucky, to obtain lunch. Mr. Clark, who was driving his 1992 Dodge Ram club cab pickup on Kentucky Highway 233 with Freddy in the front seat and Billy in the back seat, stopped at the intersection of Highway 233 and Interstate Route 25. As Mr. Clark began to make a left turn onto Route 25, his truck was hit by a Kentucky State Police cruiser driven by Alfred Barnett ("Officer Barnett") approaching from his left. Officer Barnett testified that he was traveling 55 miles per hour when he saw Mr. Clark pull into the intersection. Officer Barnett applied his brakes and turned his wheels to the left in an effort to avoid the truck. However, he was not able to do so, and the right fender of his vehicle struck the truck's left front fender. The vehicles collided in such a way that they rotated, causing them to "side slap" after impact. Mr. Clark's truck continued to rotate in a clockwise position while Officer Barnett's cruiser, traveling south at the time of impact, continued left across two northbound lanes of traffic, coming to rest after hitting a dirt embankment 153 feet away. During the course of the accident, Charles Clark, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected from his vehicle and thrown into the grass median. He died six hours later at the University of Kentucky Hospital as a result of injuries sustained in the accident. The coroner determined that the cause of death was due to cardiorespiratory arrest and blunt force injury to the thorax growing out of a motor vehicle collision. Neither of Mr. Clark's nephews was ejected. They were not wearing seat belts at the time of the accident. Officer Barnett, who was wearing a seat belt, and the dog that was traveling in the cruiser with him, were not seriously injured. The only injury Officer Barnett testified to was a three-inch laceration to his right forearm.

The District Court had diversity jurisdiction over the case. After a three-day trial, the jury rendered a unanimous verdict on October 1, 1997. The eight-person jury found in favor of Mrs. Clark on claims of strict liability, negligence and failure to warn. It stated in answer to agreed-to interrogatories:

(1)The 1992 Dodge Ram pickup truck in question was defective and unreasonably dangerous for use by Charles Clark, and that such defect or defects was a substantial factor in causing Charles Clark's injuries and death.

(2)Chrysler Corporation failed to exercise ordinary care in the design, testing, manufacturing or marketing of the 1992 Dodge Ram pickup truck in question, and that such failure was a substantial factor in causing Charles Clark's injuries and death.

(3)Chrysler Corporation failed to use reasonable care to provide adequate warning of potential dangers associated with the 1992 Dodge Ram pickup truck in question and that such failure to warn was a substantial factor in causing Charles Clark's injuries and death.

The jury found that both Chrysler and Charles Clark were each 50% at fault. It returned a verdict of $471,258.26 in compensatory damages and $3,000,000 in punitive damages. Thereafter, the court entered judgment against Chrysler for $3,235,629.13, which reflected 50% of the compensatory damages plus the total amount of the punitive damages found by the jury. After trial, Chrysler renewed its motion for judgment as a matter of law which the court had denied at the end of Mrs. Clark's case and also filed a motion for a new trial. The court denied both motions.

II.

Chrysler argues that the trial court should have excluded the testimony of Mrs. Clark's experts, Mr. Billy Peterson, a latch expert, and Mr. Andrew Gilberg, a B-pillar and accident reconstruction expert, because they did not perform any testing relative to the accident in suit. We review the decision of a district court to admit or exclude expert testimony for abuse of discretion. General Elec. Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 138-139 (1997). Deference to the decision of the trial court "is the hallmark of abuse-of-discretion review." Id. at 143. Giving the ruling of the trial judge the broad range of discretion to which it is entitled, this court finds that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in this case.

In determining whether to admit expert testimony, the trial court must decide whether an expert's testimony is both relevant and reliable. Clay v. Ford Motor Co., 215 F.3d 663, 667 (6th Cir. 2000). Chrysler's challenge herein does not go to the relevance of the testimony given by Mrs. Clark's experts but to its reliability. In making this determination, the Supreme Court confirmed inKumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999), that the gatekeeping function which the U.S. Supreme Court enunciated in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), applies not just to scientific evidence but to all expert testimony, including testimony based on technical and other specialized knowledge. Kumho Tire, 526 U.S. at 141. The Court also indicated that the factors which it set forth in Daubert as being pertinent to whether scientific evidence should be admitted, testing, peer review and publication, potential rate of error, and general acceptance in the relevant community, may be considered by the trial court in regard to proffered non-scientific expert testimony. Id. However, the Court explained that whether these factors are "reasonable measures of reliability in a particular case is a matter that the law grants the trial judge broad latitude to determine."Id. at 153.

At trial, Chrysler filed a motionin limine regarding the testimony of both of Mrs. Clark's experts. In support of its motion in limineseeking to exclude Mr. Gilberg's testimony, Chrysler argued that Mr. Gilberg's opinions were not based on independent scientific tests that he had conducted and that he did not produce any test results on which he based his opinions. The trial court denied the motion, stating:

[Mr. Gilberg] used a scientific method previously in testing door latches. Even though he didn't do it in this particular case, he can speak to these latches because he has previously tested similar latches. And the differences between those latches can be examined on cross-examination. . . . Those differences are not a reason to grant a Daubertmotion.

Joint Appendix ("JA") at 99. The court stated further:

[His opinion] is based upon his own physical examination of the latches here at issue and upon his conducting of his own testing.

[H]is knowledge is based upon his own testimony and assists the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue. And so I'm going to let it in.

Daubert goes on to talk about acceptance of others in the field and other methods of establishing reliability. And I'm satisfied that with his own testimony, that's all taken care of.

JA at 100.

Chrysler also argued in its...

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