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Cote v. Robert Bosch Tool Corp.

United States District Court, D. Vermont

March 2, 2016

ROGER COTE, Plaintiff,



I. Introduction

In this diversity action commenced in September 2014, Plaintiff Roger Cote asserts product liability claims against Defendant Robert Bosch Tool Corporation (Defendant or “Bosch”) alleging design defects in a benchtop table saw. (Doc. 1 (“Compl.”).) Bosch moves, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 702, to preclude testimony of Plaintiff’s retained expert, Darry Robert Holt, regarding the technological and economic feasibility of incorporating flesh detection technology into a benchtop table saw by 2006, and, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, for partial summary judgment. (Doc. 27.) Cote opposes the motions and Bosch filed a reply.[1] (Docs. 31, 38.) For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants in part and denies in part the motion in limine and grants in part and denies in part the motion for partial summary judgment.

II. Background[2]

Cote alleges he was injured on April 10, 2012, while using a Bosch Model 4000 benchtop table saw manufactured in 2006, when the saw’s rotating blade and his left hand made contact, resulting in severe injuries.[3] The Model 4000, a portable “benchtop” table saw, weighs approximately sixty pounds and the retail price was $500-600. Cote did not own or purchase the saw; it belonged to his former employer. The complaint includes claims for strict product liability (Count I), negligence (Count II), and breach of implied warranty of fitness (Count III). (Compl. ¶¶ 19-29.) He seeks damages, including punitive damages. Id. ¶ 31.

At the time of manufacture, the Model 4000 was certified as having met the applicable safety standard. At distribution, it was equipped with various safety features, including, inter alia, a guarding system, a rip fence, a miter gauge, operating/safety instructions, and on-product warnings. As of February 2006, flesh detection technology was only available on SawStop, LLC cabinet saws, which weigh several hundred pounds and cost thousands of dollars. In 2008, SawStop introduced contractor saws with flesh detection technology, the smallest and least expensive of which weigh approximately 245 pounds and cost approximately $1, 600. In March 2015, SawStop generally released its flesh detection benchtop table saw, weighing 79 pounds and retailing for $1299. Also in March 2015, Bosch announced its plans to introduce a benchtop tablesaw with flesh detection technology that would weigh 78 pounds and retail for $1499.

Cote alleges and Holt opines Bosch failed to use good safety engineering design practice, including incorporating available safety technologies, in the design of the saw which resulted in an unreasonably dangerous product. Holt opines Bosch failed to incorporate flesh detection technology to sense blade contact by a human and stop the blade to mitigate the severity of injury though the technology was capable of being incorporated into the design of the saw at the time Bosch manufactured it. See Compl., Doc. 27-6 (Holt Expert Report) ¶¶ 215, 217. Additionally, Cote alleges the saw was unreasonably dangerous as designed and manufactured because the blade guard was difficult to use and often removed by users, which also removed the splitter designed to prevent kickbacks. Cote alleges Bosch should also have used alternative designs using a modular guard and a riving knife, which would have substantially reduced or eliminated kickbacks. See Compl.; Holt Expert Report ¶¶ 213-14. Bosch does not challenge Holt’s opinions on these matters.

III. Discussion

A. Motion to Preclude Expert Testimony

The decision to admit or exclude expert testimony lies in the Court’s discretion and will not be deemed an abuse of discretion unless it is manifestly erroneous. Lippe v. Bairnco Corp., 99 F. App’x 274, 278 (2d Cir. 2004). The admissibility of testimony is governed by the principles of Federal Rule of Evidence 104(a). Under that Rule, a party proffering expert testimony has the burden of establishing admissibility by a preponderance of proof. See Bourjaily v. United States, 483 U.S. 171 (1987). Under Federal Rule of Evidence 702, the Court has discretionary authority to determine reliability in light of the particular facts and circumstances of the particular case. Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 158 (1999). If the Court finds that the evidence is admissible, the opposing party may still contest the weight of the evidence within the adversarial system. Amorgianos v. Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp., 303 F.3d 256, 267 (2d Cir. 2002). “Vigorous cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and careful instruction on the burden of proof are the traditional and appropriate means of attacking shaky but admissible evidence.” Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 596 (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.

Fed. R. Evid. 702.

Rule 702's requirement that the evidence assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or determine a fact in issue is essentially a requirement that the evidence be relevant. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 591. In the context of scientific evidence, the issue of relevance also has been called “fit.” Id. The fit of the facts and methodology to the conclusion does not have to be exact. “A minor flaw in an expert’s reasoning or a slight modification of an otherwise reliable method will not render an expert’s opinion per se inadmissible. The judge should only exclude the evidence if the flaw is large ...

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