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Ondrushek v. Altec Industries, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 5, 2017

FRANK ONDRUSHEK Plaintiff,
v.
ALTEC INDUSTRIES, INC. Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          PAULA XINIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending is Defendant's Motion to Exclude the expert testimony of Plaintiff's two liability experts, Nancy Grugle, Ph.D., and Dennis Eckstine, ECF No. 24. The issues are fully briefed and a hearing was held on November 28, 2017. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion to Exclude is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. Background

         On June 27, 2013, Plaintiff Frank Ondrushek (“Ondrushek”) was severely injured while operating an AA755 aerial lift truck manufactured by Defendant Altec Industries (“Altec”). Specifically, Ondrushek, seated in front of the truck's lower controls, was lowering the truck's bucket when he was hit by the bucket, fracturing several vertebrae in his spine. Ondrushek, claiming that the accident arose from Defendant's faulty design of the AA755, filed this suit in Prince George's County Circuit Court on June 27, 2016. Altec removed the action to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction on August 28, 2016. After the close of discovery, Altec moved to strike Plaintiff's liability experts, Dr. Nancy Grugle and Mr. Dennis Eckstine. Plaintiff has opposed the motion. The Court addresses each expert in turn.

         II. Analysis

         Because this action is properly before the Court on diversity jurisdiction, Maryland choice-of-law rules apply. See Wells v. Liddy, 186 F.3d 505, 521 (4th Cir. 1999) (“A federal court sitting in diversity must apply the choice-of-law rules from the forum state.”). For causes of action sounding in tort, Maryland adheres to the lex loci delicti rule, applying the substantive law of the state in which the alleged tort took place. Philip Morris Inc. v. Angeletti, 358 Md. 689, 744-45 (2000).

         A. Expert Testimony of Dennis Eckstine

         Plaintiff offers Dennis Eckstine, a mechanical engineer, to opine that the location of the AA755's lower controls places the operator in a “pinch point” or crush area that poses an unnecessary risk of the bucket hitting the operator on its descent. Eckstine further opines that the lower controls could have been placed further away from the perch (the area where the bucket comes to a rest when lowered), at minimal cost and with no additional safety risks. Eckstine also notes that, as designed, the AA755 fails to warn the operator that it is not safe to be in the vicinity of the controls while the bucket is descending to the perch. Eckstine concludes that the placement and location of the aerial lift system and lower controls were the proximate cause of Plaintiff's injuries. Eckstine bases his opinions on his own experience in designing similar trucks, examination of the AA755, and comparing the placement of the lower controls to the control placement of other similar aerial lift trucks manufactured by Altec.

         Altec does not quibble with Eckstine's qualifications as a mechanical engineer with extensive industry experience specific to aerial lift trucks. Cf. Higginbotham v. KCS Intern. Inc., 85 Fed.Appx. 911 (4th Cir. 2004) (expert opinion on design defect excluded where expert has no training in relevant industry or experience in design or manufacturing specific product). Nor does Altec challenge the relevance of Eckstine's opinions. Rather, Altec challenges Eckstine's methodology in concluding that AA755 was flawed in its placement of the lower controls. Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence governs the analysis. The rule provides:

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 ...

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