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Kentucky Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. v. Broan-Nutone, LLC

United States District Court, Sixth Circuit

October 21, 2013



JOSEPH H. McKINLEY, Jr., Chief District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendants Broan-Nutone and Jakel Motors' Combined Motion for Summary Judgment and Motion to Exclude Plaintiff's Expert Witnesses [DN 71], Defendants' Motion for Oral Argument [DN 76], and Motion for Leave of Court to File Its Reply Memorandum Exceeding the 15 Page Limit [DN 74]. Fully briefed, these matters are ripe for decision.


In the early morning of January 11, 2011, Patrick and Natalie Moorcroft, Plaintiff Kentucky Farm Bureau's (KFB) insureds, evacuated their home after it ignited into flames. Mr. Moorcroft was the first to become aware of the fire after hearing some unusual sounds originating from the master bathroom. Mr. Moorcroft first thought that his son was playing in the bathroom, but then he "saw an orange flicker and instinctively knew what it was." (Patrick Moorcroft Dep., DN 72-2, at 3). Upon entering the bathroom, Mr. Moorcroft turned off the power switches and threw water in the area where he noticed the orange flickering. Mr. Moorcroft specifically remembered that when he entered the bathroom that only the switch to the exhaust fan was on and not the light switch. Additionally, Mr. Moorcroft noticed that the grill of the fan was melted and remembered actually seeing the fan itself on fire.

After Mr. Moorcroft attempted to douse the flames with water from the bathroom, he went in the attic to see how far the fire had spread. Because the fan was in the corner of the attic, Mr. Moorcroft had to completely get in the attic to observe the fire. By the time he made it up to the attic, he said that the roof was already on fire. Mr. Moorcroft also observed fire coming out of the casing of the fan. The Moorcrofts then called 911 and left the house with their children.

Following an investigation into the cause of the fire by experts retained by Plaintiff, KFB filed suit against Broan-Nutone, manufacturer of the electric exhaust fan, and Jakel Motors, manufacturer of the motor inside the fan, under a theory of manufacturing and design defect. Defendants have moved to exclude the expert testimony of Kevin Lewis and William Mers Kelly. Defendants have also moved for summary judgment under the theory that Plaintiff has failed to sufficiently establish legal causation for its products liability case.


A. Expert Testimony

Defendant seeks to exclude the testimony of Plaintiff's experts, Kevin Lewis and William Mers Kelly, alleging in part that their testimony does not meet the standards of Fed.R.Evid. 702 and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. , 509 U.S. 579 (1993). Rule 702 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 facts of the case.

Under Rule 702, the trial judge acts as a gatekeeper to ensure that expert evidence is both reliable and relevant. Mike's Train House, Inc. v. Lionel, L.L.C. , 472 F.3d 398, 407 (6th Cir. 2006) (citing Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael , 526 U.S. 137 (1999)). In determining whether testimony is reliable, the Court's focus "must be solely on principles and methodology, not on the conclusions that they generate." Daubert , 509 U.S. at 595. The Supreme Court identified a nonexhaustive list of factors that may help the Court in assessing the reliability of a proposed expert's opinion. These factors include: (1) whether a theory or technique can be or has been tested; (2) whether the theory has been subjected to peer review and publication; (3) whether the technique has a known or potential rate of error; and (4) whether the theory or technique enjoys "general acceptance" within a "relevant scientific community." Id. at 592-94. This gatekeeping role is not limited to expert testimony based on scientific knowledge, but instead extends to "all scientific, ' technical, ' or other specialized' matters" within the scope of Rule 702. Kumho Tire Co. , 526 U.S. at 147.

Whether the Court applies these factors to assess the reliability of an expert's testimony "depend[s] on the nature of the issue, the expert's particular expertise, and the subject of his testimony." Kumho Tire Co. , 526 U.S. at 150 (quotation omitted). Any weakness in the underlying factual basis bears on the weight, as opposed to admissibility, of the evidence. In re Scrap Metal Antitrust Litig. , 527 F.3d 517, 530 (6th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted).

B. Summary Judgment

Before the Court may grant a motion for summary judgment, it must find that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial burden of specifying the basis for its motion and identifying that portion of the record that demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies this burden, the non-moving party thereafter ...

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