United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville
STEPHEN AND ALEXANDRIA SCANLAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATORS OF THE ESTATE OF SAWYER SCANLAN PLAINTIFFS
SUNBEAM PRODUCTS, INC. D/B/A JARDEN CONSUMER SOLUTIONS DEFENDANT
Charles R. Simpson III, Senior Judge
matter is before the court on the objection of defendant
Sunbeam Products, Inc. (“Sunbeam”) to Magistrate
Judge Dave Whalin's order denying Sunbeam's motions
to exclude Mark Lehto, Ph.D., Michael Wogalter, Ph.D.,
William Murphy, Ph.D., and Sara Ford as expert witnesses. ECF
Nos. 112, 110. Plaintiffs Stephen and Alexandria Scanlan
(“the Scanlans”) responded. ECF No. 124. For the
reasons set forth below, Sunbeam's objection will be
case arises from the tragic death of two-year-old Sawyer
Scanlan from heatstroke. On December 15, 2010, Stephen
Scanlan put his son, Sawyer, to bed in his crib at
approximately 9:00 p.m. ECF No. 88-3, p. 7. Stephen turned on
the Sunbeam Fan-Forced Heater, Model No. SFH111 (“space
heater” or “SFH111”) and turned the
thermostat dial to mid-range. Id. at 23. He then
left the room and shut the door behind him. Id. at
36. Although Sawyer's mother, Alexandria Scanlan, woke up
several times during the night to feed Sawyer's infant
sister, she did not check on Sawyer because she did not hear
any noise coming from his room and assumed he was sleeping.
ECF No. 85-4, p. 58.
approximately 10:00 a.m. the following morning, Alexandria
went to Sawyer's room to wake him. Id. at 66-67.
When she opened the bedroom door, she felt a burst of hot air
and found Sawyer lying in his crib, unresponsive.
Id. at 70-71. An EMS official pronounced Sawyer dead
at the scene. The medical examiner concluded that “The
death of this 2 ½ year-old male child . . . is
attributed to heat exposure due to confinement in a small
room with an electric space heater.” ECF No. 52-7.
December 7, 2011, the Scanlans filed suit against Sunbeam in
Jefferson Circuit Court, alleging strict liability,
negligence, breach of warranty, violations of the Kentucky
Consumer Protection Act, and violations of the Magnuson-Moss
Warranty Act. ECF No. 1-1, p. 5. The case was then
removed to this court. Id. at 1. The Scanlans
disclosed several experts they plan to call as witnesses at
trial. These expert witnesses include: Mark Lehto, Phd., a
professor of engineering at Purdue University; Michael
Wogalter, Ph.D., a human factors specialist and professor
emeritus at North Carolina State University; William Murphy,
Ph.D., a professor of engineering at the University of
Kentucky; and Sara Ford, a vocational economist. ECF No. 52.
Sunbeam filed motions to exclude these four witnesses,
arguing that they do not satisfy the requirements for expert
witnesses under Federal Rule of Evidence (FRE) 702. ECF Nos.
motions were referred to Judge Whalin for resolution. Judge
Whalin subsequently issued an order denying Sunbeam's
motions to exclude the testimony of Lehto, Wogalter, Murphy,
and Ford. ECF No. 110. Sunbeam now objects to Judge
Whalin's order under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a), a party may file an
objection to a magistrate judge's order within fourteen
days of being served with a copy. Upon review, a district
court must “modify or set aside any part of the order
that is clearly erroneous or contrary to law.”
Id. Clear error exists “when the reviewing
court is left with the definite and firm conviction that a
mistake has been committed.” Max Trucking, LLC v.
Liberty Mut. Ins. Corp., 802 F.3d 793, 810 (6th Cir.
2015) (citing Anderson v. City of Bessemer City, 470
U.S. 564, 573 (1985)).
challenges Judge Whalin's order denying its motions to
exclude Lehto, Wogalter, Murphy, and Ford as expert
witnesses. FRE 702 governs the admissibility of expert
witness testimony. This rule states:
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
(d) The expert has reliably applied the principles and
methods to the facts of the case.
trial judges serve as “gatekeepers” to ensure
that expert testimony “rests on a reliable foundation
and is relevant to the task at hand.” Daubert v.
Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S.
579, 597, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993). In
Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, the
Supreme Court suggested several factors that could be used in
assessing the reliability of an expert's opinion,
including (1) “whether it can be or has been
tested;” (2) “whether [it] . . . has been subject
to peer review and publication;” (3) whether there is a
“known or potential rate of error'” and (4)
whether it enjoys “general acceptance . . . in the
relevant scientific community.” Id. at 594.
However, the Court emphasized that this inquiry “is a
flexible one, ” and considerations may vary based on
the subject matter of the case. Id. Notwithstanding
this flexibility, the role of a trial judge is to assess the
“principles and methodology” used by experts, not
the conclusions they ultimately reach. Id. at 595.
assessing relevance, the ultimate question is whether the
expert's opinions “fit” the facts of the
case. Id. at 591. “[S]cientific validity for
one purpose is not necessarily ...