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Empire Fire and Marine Insurance Co. v. Royal Plus Electric, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Delaware

November 25, 2014

EMPIRE FIRE AND MARINE INSURANCE COMPANY, as subrogee of JAMES AND CHARLENE DAUTENHAHN and STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY, as subrogee of VICTOR AND DEBRA TRUNZO Plaintiffs,
v.
ROYAL PLUS ELECTRIC, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM ORDER

RICHARD G. ANDREWS, District Judge.

Before the Court are competing Daubert Motions; two submitted by Plaintiffs and one submitted by Defendant. Plaintiffs' first Motion seeks to bar the testimony of Defendant's expert Mark Kilgore. (D.I. 77). Plaintiffs' second Motion seeks to limit the testimony of Defendant's expert Gregory Paulsen. (D.I. 78). Defendant's sole Motion seeks to limit the testimony of Plaintiffs' expert Samuel Sudler. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiffs' Motion in Limine to Bar or Limit the Expert Testimony of Gregory J. Paulsen is GRANTED, Plaintiffs' Motion in Limine to Bar the Testimony of Defendant's Expert Mark L. Kilgore is DENIED, and Defendant's Motion in Limine to Limit the Testimony of Plaintiffs' Liability Expert Samuel Sudler is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

All three Motions submitted by the parties stem from differing expert opinions based on the same set of relatively undisputed facts. A brief review of those facts is appropriate. On April 20, 2012, a fire broke out at the home of Plaintiff Empire's insured (the "Dautenhahn Home"). (D.I. 77, p. 1). Despite the suppression efforts of the local fire department, the Dautenhahn Home was razed and the neighboring residence, insured by Plaintiff State Farm, was damaged. ( Id. at p. 2). Plaintiffs allege that the fire was caused by the improper workmanship of Defendant Royal Plus, who performed the electrical installation at the time of the home's construction. ( Id. ). The parties agree that the fire began in the area of an electrical junction box located on an outside wall of the Dautenhahn Home, but disagree on the causation of the fire. (D.I. 82, p. 1; D.I. 77, p. 6). Investigations performed after the fire revealed several cigarette butts in the debris towards the front of the house and beside the front garage, but no cigarette butts were ever found near the undisputed origin of the fire. (D.I. 78-1, p. 5). Plaintiffs, relying on Samuel Sudler, allege that the fire was caused by a high-resistance "glowing connection" within the electrical junction box which resulted from Defendant's failure to exercise reasonable skill and care during the initial installation of a wire connection. (D.I. 78, p. 2). Defendant rebuts Plaintiffs' claims with the aid of Mark Kilgore and Gregory Paulsen, who opine on alternative potential causes of a glowing connection within the electrical junction box. (D.I. 81-2, pp. 7-8).

II. LEGAL STANDARD

The motions presented are Daubert motions. Federal Rule of Evidence 702 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 methods; and (d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case.

The Court of Appeals has explained:

Rule 702 embodies a trilogy of restrictions on expert testimony: qualification, reliability, and fit. Qualification refers to the requirement that the witness possess specialized expertise. We have interpreted this requirement liberally, holding that "a broad range of knowledge, skills, and training qualify an expert." Secondly, the testimony must be reliable; it "must be based on the methods and procedures of science' rather than on subjective belief or unsupported speculation'; the expert must have good ground' for his or her belief. In sum, Daubert holds that an inquiry into the reliability of scientific evidence under Rule 702 requires a determination as to its scientific validity." Finally, Rule 702 requires that the expert testimony must fit the issues in the case. In other words, the expert's testimony must be relevant for the purposes of the case and must assist the trier of fact. The Supreme Court explained in Daubert that "Rule 702's helpfulness' standard requires a valid scientific connection to the pertinent inquiry as a precondition to admissibility."
By means of a so-called "Daubert hearing, " the district court acts as a gatekeeper, preventing opinion testimony that does not meet the requirements of qualification, reliability, and fit from reaching the jury. See Daubert ("Faced with a proffer of expert scientific testimony, then, the trial judge must determine at the outset, pursuant to Rule 104(a) [of the Federal Rules of Evidence] whether the expert is proposing to testify to (1) scientific knowledge that (2) will assist the trier of fact to understand or determine a fact in issue.").

Schneider ex rel. Estate of Schneider v. Fried, 320 F.3d 396, 404-05 (3d Cir. 2003).[1]

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiffs first argue that Mr. Paulsen's testimony should be limited as it pertains to careless smoking as a cause of the fire because it fails to meet the requirements set forth by Rule 702 and Daubert. Plaintiffs also argue that Mr. Kilgore's testimony should be limited because it similarly fails to pass muster or, in the alternative, because Mr. Kilgore is not qualified to render an opinion in this case. Defendant seeks the limit Mr. Sudler's conclusions ...


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