Watson v. Inco Alloys Intern., Inc., No. 28469.

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtDAVIS, Justice
Citation545 S.E.2d 294,209 W.Va. 234
PartiesJoyce A. WATSON, Administratrix of the Estate of Carl Watson, Deceased, and Joyce Watson, in Her Own Right, Plaintiff Below, Appellant, v. INCO ALLOYS INTERNATIONAL, INC., Nacco Industries, Inc., and Nacco Materials Handling Group, Inc., Defendants Below, Appellees.
Decision Date09 March 2001
Docket NumberNo. 28469.

545 S.E.2d 294
209 W.Va.
234

Joyce A. WATSON, Administratrix of the Estate of Carl Watson, Deceased, and Joyce Watson, in Her Own Right, Plaintiff Below, Appellant,
v.
INCO ALLOYS INTERNATIONAL, INC., Nacco Industries, Inc., and Nacco Materials Handling Group, Inc., Defendants Below, Appellees

No. 28469.

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

Submitted February 6, 2001.

Decided March 9, 2001.


545 S.E.2d 296
Brian Alan Prim, Goldberg, Persky, Jennings, White & Hostler, Huntington, David B. Rodes, Goldberg, Persky, Jennings & White, P.C., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Attorneys for the Appellant

W. Henry Jernigan, Jr., Gretchen M. Callas, Jackson & Kelly PLLC, Charleston, West Virginia, Attorneys for Appellee Nacco Materials Handling Group, Inc.

545 S.E.2d 295
DAVIS, Justice

In this products liability action, Mrs. Joyce A. Watson challenges orders of the Circuit Court of Cabell County finding her expert witness, a professional engineer, was not admissible, and granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant based upon the absence of admissible expert, testimony. We conclude that the circuit court abused its discretion by relying, in part, on its application of the Wilt/Daubert standard for determining the admissibility of expert scientific testimony to exclude the expert's testimony, as that testimony was founded on technical and not scientific knowledge. In addition, the circuit court abused its discretion in concluding that the engineer was not qualified to offer an opinion as to the causation and enhancement of injuries sustained by the plaintiff's decedent. Finally, because we conclude the expert's testimony is admissible, we find the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment and we remand this case for additional proceedings.

545 S.E.2d 297
I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On April 29, 1996, plaintiff's decedent, Carl Watson, was operating a stand-up lifttruck1 for his employer, INCO Alloys International, Inc. (hereinafter "INCO"). Mr. Watson was using the lifttruck to load large coils of wire onto a flat-bed tractor trailer.2 At some point during this operation, the lifttruck backed off the side of the tractor trailer, fell approximately five feet, and landed on a concrete floor. Mr. Watson was crushed in the accident, and immediately died.3 His wife, Joyce A. Watson (hereinafter "Mrs. Watson"), plaintiff below and appellant herein, subsequently filed suit in her capacity as administratrix of the estate of her husband, and in her own right, against several defendants including Nacco Materials Handling Group, Inc. (hereinafter "Nacco"),4 the manufacturer of the lifttruck.5 Mrs. Watson's claims against Nacco are that the lifttruck was defectively designed in that was not equipped with side doors, and that it did not provide appropriate warnings of what an operator should do in case of a fall. In support of her contentions, Mrs. Watson intended to offer the expert testimony of Mr. John B. Sevart, a licensed professional engineer. Nacco opposed Mr. Sevart's testimony and filed a motion in limine to have it excluded. By order entered January 28, 2000, the Circuit Court of Cabell County granted Nacco's motion on two grounds. First, the circuit court concluded that the testimony offered by Mr. Sevart on the causation and enhancement of Mr. Watson's injuries was outside his expertise and not admissible under Rule 702 of the West Virginia Rules of Evidence. The circuit court explained:

In the case at bar, the plaintiff offers witness Sevart's testimony in the areas of causation of injuries and the enhancement of injuries. This court believes that witness Sevart's testimony in these areas is outside his expertise. Therefore, because the court is of the opinion that medical causation and injury enhancement testimony requires testimony of a medical expert, the court will exclude witness Sevart's testimony in these areas.

In addition, the circuit court concluded that Mr. Sevart's testimony, as an expert engineer, on the issues of design defects to the lifttruck and the lack of adequate warnings was scientific, and therefore must fulfill the standards set forth in Gentry v. Mangum, 195 W.Va. 512, 466 S.E.2d 171 (1995). In this regard, the circuit court further stated that it had reviewed Mr. Sevart's report, his deposition testimony, and documents filed by Mrs. Watson describing the intended purpose of Mr. Sevart's testimony. The court then explained that it

[did] not find any basis to show that any test was performed to show that the plaintiff exited the fork in the manner claimed by witness Sevart. Furthermore, the court [did] not find any testimony to show that any tests whatsoever were performed to allow this court to determine whether witness Sevart's opinions reflect the use of the scientific method at all.
Therefore, any opinion on side doors and causative effect would have no scientific basis and would constitute witness Sevart's mere personal opinion. Therefore, this court must exclude witness Sevart's testimony regarding design defects.

Based upon the circuit court's exclusion of Mr. Sevart's testimony, Nacco filed a motion

545 S.E.2d 298
for summary judgment alleging that, without the testimony of an expert witness, Mrs. Watson could not sustain her burden under Morningstar v. Black & Decker Mfg. Co., 162 W.Va. 857, 253 S.E.2d 666 (1979), to show that the decedent's injuries were enhanced as a proximate result of a defect in the lifttruck he was operating at the time of the accident. The circuit court agreed, and by order entered on March 8, 2000, granted summary judgment in favor of Nacco. It is from the January 28, 2000, and March 8, 2000, orders of the Circuit Court of Cabell County that Mrs. Watson now appeals

II.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

This case is before us from an order of the circuit court granting summary judgment in favor of Nacco. Our review of such an order is de novo. Syl. pt. 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W.Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994) ("A circuit court's entry of summary judgment is reviewed de novo."). In considering the propriety of summary judgment in this case, we apply the same standard that is applied at the circuit court level, that is "[a] motion for summary judgment should be granted only when it is clear that there is no genuine issue of fact to be tried and inquiry concerning the facts is not desirable to clarify the application of the law." Syl. pt. 3, Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Federal Ins. Co. of New York, 148 W.Va. 160, 133 S.E.2d 770 (1963).

The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Nacco based upon the court's exclusion of Mrs. Watson's expert witness, Mr. Sevart. The circuit court found that, without the admissible testimony of an expert witness, Mrs. Watson was unable to meet her burden of establishing the elements required to proceed with her products liability action. See Morningstar v. Black & Decker Mfg. Co., 162 W.Va. 857, 253 S.E.2d 666. In the absence of such testimony, the circuit court reasoned, there was no triable issue of fact. Consequently, the focus of Mrs. Watson's appeal is the circuit court's decision to exclude Mr. Sevart's testimony. When considering the propriety of a circuit court's decision whether to admit the testimony of an expert witness, we will reverse only for a clear abuse of discretion:

"The admissibility of testimony by an expert witness is a matter within the sound discretion of the trial court, and the trial court's decision will not be reversed unless it is clearly wrong." Syllabus Point 6, Helmick v. Potomac Edison Co., 185 W.Va. 269, 406 S.E.2d 700 (1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 908, 112 S.Ct. 301, 116 L.Ed.2d 244 (1991).

Syl. pt. 1, West Virginia Div. of Highways v. Butler, 205 W.Va. 146, 516 S.E.2d 769 (1999). See also Syl. pt. 3, Wilt v. Buracker, 191 W.Va. 39, 443 S.E.2d 196 (1993) (" ` " `Whether a witness is qualified to state an opinion is a matter which rests within the discretion of the trial court and its ruling on that point will not ordinarily be disturbed unless it clearly appears that its discretion has been abused.' Point 5, syllabus, Overton v. Fields, 145 W.Va. 797 [117 S.E.2d 598 (1960)]." Syllabus Point 4, Hall v. Nello Teer Co., 157 W.Va. 582, 203 S.E.2d 145 (1974).' Syllabus Point 12, Board of Education v. Zando, Martin & Milstead, [Inc.,] 182 W.Va. 597, 390 S.E.2d 796 (1990)."); Syl. pt. 2, Morris v. Boppana, 182 W.Va. 248, 387 S.E.2d 302 (1989) (" `Under W. Va. R. Evid. 702, a trial judge has broad discretion to decide whether expert testimony should be admitted, and where the evidence is unnecessary, cumulative, confusing or misleading the trial judge may properly refuse to admit it.' Syllabus point 4, Rozas v. Rozas, 176 W.Va. 235, 342 S.E.2d 201 (1986).").

With due consideration for the above quoted standards, we will consider the issues raised by the parties.

III.

DISCUSSION

A. Applicability of Wilt v. Buracker to Expert Witness Testimony Offered by Mrs. Watson

In deciding whether Mrs. Watson's expert witness, Mr. Sevart, should be permitted to testify regarding alleged design defects to the lifttruck and the lack of adequate warnings,

545 S.E.2d 299
the circuit court applied the gatekeeping function for determining the admissibility of expert scientific testimony that was first adopted by this Court in Wilt v. Buracker, 191 W.Va. 39, 443 S.E.2d 196 (1993), and further explained in Gentry v. Mangum, 195 W.Va. 512, 466 S.E.2d 171 (1995). After performing a Wilt/Gentry analysis, the circuit court concluded that Mr. Sevart's testimony was inadmissible.

Mrs. Watson argues that the circuit court erred by relying on the Wilt/Gentry standard to exclude her expert's testimony. Because Mr. Sevart's testimony was based upon his education, training, experience, and a review of data reasonably relied on by engineering experts, rather than on the scientific method, Mrs. Watson contends that the circuit court should have made its determination under Rule 702 of the West...

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29 practice notes
  • Foster v. Sakhai, No. 29339.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 12, 2001
    ...to testify. Syl. pt. 5, Gentry v. Mangum, 195 W.Va. 512, 466 S.E.2d 171 (1995); Accord, syl. pt 4, Watson v. Inco Alloys Intern., Inc., 209 W.Va. 234, 545 S.E.2d 294...
  • State v. Dilliner, No. 29993.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 2, 2002
    ...702, requires that scientific test results, in order to be admissible, be relevant and reliable. Watson v. Inco Alloys Intern., Inc., 209 W.Va. 234, 239, 545 S.E.2d 294, 299 (2001). There is a category of evidence based on scientific methodology that is so longstanding and generally recogni......
  • Perrine v. E.I. Du Pont De Nemours And Co., No. 34333
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • March 26, 2010
    ...must assist the trier of fact.” Gentry [ v. Mangum, 195 W.Va. 512, 524, 466 S.E.2d 171, 183 (1995) ]. Watson v. Inco Alloys Int'l, Inc., 209 W.Va. 234, 242, 545 S.E.2d 294, 302 (2001). In other words, “[i]n determining who is an expert, a circuit court should conduct a two-step inquiry. Fir......
  • State v. Lambert, No. 14-0438
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • September 17, 2015
    ...wrong." Syl. pt. 6, Helmick v. Potomac Edison Co., 185 W. Va. 269, 406 S.E.2d 700 (1991). See also Watson v. Inco Alloys Int'l, Inc., 209 W. Va. 234, 238, 545 S.E.2d 294, 298 (2001) ("When considering the propriety of a circuit court's decision whether to admit the testimony of an expert wi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
29 cases
  • Foster v. Sakhai, No. 29339.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 12, 2001
    ...to testify. Syl. pt. 5, Gentry v. Mangum, 195 W.Va. 512, 466 S.E.2d 171 (1995); Accord, syl. pt 4, Watson v. Inco Alloys Intern., Inc., 209 W.Va. 234, 545 S.E.2d 294...
  • State v. Dilliner, No. 29993.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 2, 2002
    ...702, requires that scientific test results, in order to be admissible, be relevant and reliable. Watson v. Inco Alloys Intern., Inc., 209 W.Va. 234, 239, 545 S.E.2d 294, 299 (2001). There is a category of evidence based on scientific methodology that is so longstanding and generally recogni......
  • Perrine v. E.I. Du Pont De Nemours And Co., No. 34333
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • March 26, 2010
    ...must assist the trier of fact.” Gentry [ v. Mangum, 195 W.Va. 512, 524, 466 S.E.2d 171, 183 (1995) ]. Watson v. Inco Alloys Int'l, Inc., 209 W.Va. 234, 242, 545 S.E.2d 294, 302 (2001). In other words, “[i]n determining who is an expert, a circuit court should conduct a two-step inquiry. Fir......
  • State v. Lambert, No. 14-0438
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • September 17, 2015
    ...wrong." Syl. pt. 6, Helmick v. Potomac Edison Co., 185 W. Va. 269, 406 S.E.2d 700 (1991). See also Watson v. Inco Alloys Int'l, Inc., 209 W. Va. 234, 238, 545 S.E.2d 294, 298 (2001) ("When considering the propriety of a circuit court's decision whether to admit the testimony of an expert wi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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