United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
U.S. SPECIALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, CITY OF COLUMBUS, INDIANA, Plaintiffs,
DAIMLER TRUCKS NORTH AMERICA, LLC, Defendants.
ENTRY ON THE PARTIES' MOTIONS TO EXCLUDE EXPERT
TESTIMONY AND ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
RICHARD L. YOUNG, JUDGE
present case revolves around an accidental fire that
significantly damaged three garbage trucks that were parked
in a city parking lot. Fortunately, for all involved, nobody
was injured. However, the fire did cause over $300, 000 in
damage prompting the present products liability lawsuit
between the owner of the truck, the City of Columbus, Indiana
(“City”); its insurer, Tokio Marine Holdings,
(collectively referred to as “Plaintiffs”); and
the manufacturer of the truck, Daimler Trucks North America,
LLC (“Daimler” or “Defendant”).
the court are Defendant's motion to exclude the expert
testimony of David Zedonis, Plaintiffs' motion to exclude
the expert testimony of John Maurus, and Defendant's
motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below,
Plaintiffs' Daubert motion is
DENIED, Defendant's Daubert
motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED
IN PART, and Defendant's motion for summary
judgment is GRANTED IN PART and
DENIED IN PART.
early 2008, the City issued an invitation to the public
seeking bids for a new garbage truck. (Filing No. 76-1,
Deposition of Bryan Burton (“Burton Dep.”) at
19:20 - 25; 20:1 - 6); see generally Ind. Code §
5-22-7-1 et seq. (describing Indiana's bidding
process for public purchasing). Bryan Burton, the Director of
the Department of Public Works for the City, was in charge of
the bidding process and responsible for purchasing the truck.
(Filing No. 76-1, Burton Dep. at 14:9 - 19; 20:4 - 6; 30:6 -
8). After getting approval from the Board of Public Works and
Safety, Burton placed an order with Best Equipment Co.
Inc.-the winning bidder. (Id. at 21:13 - 25; 30:21 -
24). On May 28, 2008, the City officially purchased the 2007
M2 106V Freightliner garbage truck-the “subject
truck” of this litigation. (Filing No. 71-12,
Certificate of Title for the subject truck).
with the purchase of the subject truck, the City also
purchased an Extended Warranty (the “Warranty” or
“Warranty Agreement”) from Daimler. (See
Filing 71-4, Extended Warranty Agreement). When purchasing
trucks, the City's standard practice is to always
purchase an extended warranty because it is cheaper to
purchase an extended warranty than it is to pay for the
repairs over time. (Filing No. 71-3, Burton Dep. at 36:7 -
19). The Warranty covers the subject truck's suspension,
engine, transmission, and both the front and rear axles.
(Id. at 57:16 - 23). The Warranty also contains
Purchaser's Exclusive Remedy
The foregoing limited warranty shall be the Purchaser's
sole and exclusive remedy against Freightliner, whether in
contract, under statute (including statutory provisions as to
conditions as to quality or fitness for any particular
purpose of goods supplied pursuant to the contract of sales),
warranty, tort, strict liability, or any other legal theory.
Freightliner Limitation of Liability
Freightliner's liability to a Purchaser on any claim, for
loss or damage arising out of, connected with, or resulting
from the contract or sale, or the performance or breach
thereof, or from the design, manufacture, sale, delivery,
service, repair or use of any vehicle manufactured by
Freightliner, shall not exceed the price to the Purchaser
allocable to the part of such vehicle which gives rise to the
claim and in no event shall it exceed the sales price of the
vehicle. In no event shall Freightliner be liable for special
or consequential damages, including, but not limited to,
injuries to persons or damage to property, loss of profits or
anticipated profits, or loss of vehicle use.
Warranty Agreement at 3 - 4). The Warranty Agreement is a
standard form agreement, and Burton explained that he
understands the terms of the agreement and that the terms are
a condition to Freightliner extending the agreement. (Filing
No. 71-3, Burton Dep. at 57:3 - 15). The Warranty is signed
“Brian Burton, ” but Burton explained that the
signature was not his (since it was misspelled) and he did
not know who signed the document. (Id. at 56:2 -
11, 2015, the subject truck ignited resulting in a fire that
damaged the subject truck and two other garbage trucks parked
nearby. (Filing No. 57, Answer at 5 ¶ 16; Filing No.
71-3, Burton Dep. at 94:25, 95:1 - 4).
origin and cause of the fire is disputed. John Maurus-a fire
investigator and Defendant's expert-examined the trucks
less than two weeks after the fire. (See Filing No.
71-13, May 22, 2015 Inspection Sheet). He concluded the fire
originated in the engine compartment of the subject truck
near a battery cable. (See Filing 71-14, Deposition
of John Maurus (“Maurus Dep.”) at 35:9 - 17).
David Zedonis-a fire investigator and Plaintiffs'
expert-examined the trucks in August of 2017, more than two
years after the fire. (Filing No. 94-2, Expert Report of
David Zedonis (“Zedonis Report”) at 1). He
concluded that the fire originated in the taillight power
distribution module (“PDM”). (Id. at 2).
October 17, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a complaint in Indiana
state court, and on November 23, 2016, Defendant removed the
action to federal court. (See Filing No. 1-2, State
Court Record at 3; Filing No. 1, Notice of Removal). An
Amended Complaint was filed on December, 15, 2016. (Filing
No. 13). The Magistrate Judge whittled down the Amended
Complaint leaving only one remaining claim: a product
liability claim alleging the subject truck was defective and
seeking damages for the loss of the other two garbage trucks.
(Id. at 6). Defendant now seeks summary judgment on
Plaintiffs' remaining claim.
Motions to Exclude Expert Testimony
admissibility of expert testimony is governed by the Supreme
Court's decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow
Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993) and Federal
Rule of Evidence 702. C.W. ex rel. Wood v. Textron,
Inc., 807 F.3d 827, 834 (7th Cir. 2015). Generally
speaking, an expert's opinion must be helpful to the
jury, based on sufficient facts or data, and the product of
reliable principles and methods. See Fed. R. Evid.
702(a) - (c); Wood, 807 F.3d at 834. In addition,
the expert must reasonably apply the principles and the
methods to the facts of the case. Fed.R.Evid. 702(d); see
Lapsley v. Xtek, Inc., 689 F.3d 802, 810 (7th Cir.
district court serves as the gatekeeper for expert testimony.
Lapsley, 689 F.3d at 809. This means that the court
must make a determination at the outset of whether the
proffered testimony is sufficiently relevant, reliable, and
related to the facts of the case. Id. (citing
Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592 - 93). The court's
analysis encompasses only the bases for the expert's
opinions-not the opinions themselves. See Schultz v. Akzo
Nobel Paints, LLC, 721 F.3d 426, 431 - 32 (7th Cir.
Plaintiffs' expert, opined that the fire originated at
the taillight PDM. Defendant seeks to preclude several of
Zedonis's opinions-(1) the taillight PDM in the subject
truck was exposed to similar severe environmental conditions
similar to those involved in Defendant's 2008 voluntary
recall; (2) the exposure to the environmental conditions led
to corrosion on the PDM and its connectors; (3) the corrosion
led to increased resistance sufficient to start an electrical
fire; (4) the wind spread the fire from the taillight PDM to
the engine compartment, and (5) the taillight PDM suffered
from a defect that made it unreasonably dangerous-all because
Zedonis lacks a reliable methodology. See Lapsley,
689 F.3d at 810; Clark v. Takata Corp., 192 F.3d
750, 759 n. 5 (7th Cir. 1999). Plaintiffs respond that
Zedonis's opinions are reliable and based on the facts
and evidence in this case.
to Defendant's first three challenges, the court finds
that these opinions (collectively the “environmental
exposure” opinions) are sufficiently reliable. First,
Zedonis conducted an on-site inspection, during which he
observed an exceptional amount of heat damage near the
taillight PDM as well as significant corrosion on the PDM
mounting bracket. (Zedonis Report at 11). Based on these
observations, and his heating pattern and arcing pattern
analysis, he concluded that the fire originated at the
taillight PDM-a conclusion which Defendant does not challenge
as unreliable. Second, he considered different reports
concerning PDMs and environmental exposure. For example, he
considered Defendant's 2008 recall (Safety Recall
08V-154) and a 2012 letter written by Defendant in response
to an Office of Defects Investigation concerning the recall.
(Id. at 12 - 13); (Filing No. 76-7, ODI Report of
Nasser Zamani (“Zamani Report”) at 2 - 3). Both
documents state that certain PDM locations are highly
susceptible to water intrusion. (Zedonis Report at 13);
(Zamani Report at 1 - 2). He also considered several of
Defendant's technical reports, one of which that notes
the existing PDM design-the taillight PDM design-has resulted
in electrical failures and equipment fires due to water
intrusion. (Filing No. 85, Bussman Severe Service PDM
Technical Report (“Bussman Report”) at
his environmental exposure opinions are based on those two
analyses: his analysis of the fire origin and consideration
of the reports concerning PDMs. Defendant does not challenge
the sufficiency of his fire-origin analysis, and experts may
rely on other scientific or similar reports to form their
conclusions. See Walker v. Soo Line R. Co., 208 F.3d
581, 588 (7th Cir. 2000); see also NutraSweet Co. v. X-L
Engineering Co., 227 F.3d 776, 789 - 790 (7th Cir.
2000). Based on his experience and training as a mechanical
engineer, Zedonis is qualified to bridge the gap between the
reports and his ...