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Smith v. Toyota Motor Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

March 17, 2018

KRISTIN MARIE SMITH AND LLOYD SMITH, Plaintiffs,
v.
TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION TOYOTA MOTOR SALES, U.S.A., INC. Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          E. RICHARD WEBBER SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion in Limine [100] and Plaintiffs' Motion in Limine [115]. This Court notes any rulings on motions in limine are advisory. Parties attempting to introduce evidence or reference any of the relevant issues associated with any motions in limine that are granted should first approach the bench and raise the issue with the Court outside the presence of the jury.

         I. Defendants' Motion in Limine [ECF No. 100]

         A. Untimely Disclosed Expert File Materials and Data

         Defendants argue pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2), Plaintiffs and their witnesses should not be allowed to make any mention of or put on any evidence that was untimely or insufficiently disclosed with their expert disclosures or depositions. Plaintiffs state they are not aware of any expert file materials which were not a part of their experts' files when those files were produced to counsel for Defendants.

         The Court will grant this motion.

         B. Undisclosed or Unsupported Defect or Negligence Theories

         Defendants ask this Court exclude any reference to evidence regarding any alleged defects, negligence, or any additional claims which have not been previously disclosed to Toyota or are not causally connected to the accident that made the basis of Plaintiffs' injuries/damages. Specifically, they ask this Court to exclude evidence related to any alleged handling defects, marketing/failure to warn defects, or occupant protection defects. They state any attempts to offer related evidence would have no materiality or relevance to the issues in this lawsuit and would only serve to prejudice and unfairly surprise Toyota.

         In their Response, Plaintiffs state they “agree that no party should be permitted to make any mention of, make reference to, or put on any evidence regarding any alleged defects, negligence, defenses or any additional claims or defense which have not previously been disclosed or are not causally connected to the accident.”

         The Court will grant this motion.

         C. Any Evidence Regarding Other “Similar” Incidents (“OSI”)

         Defendants argue Plaintiffs should not be allowed to reference or offer evidence related to other incidents, claims, complaints, and/or lawsuits unless they have first laid a foundation of substantially similarity outside the presence of the jury. Defendants state such evidence is irrelevant, extremely prejudicial, and misleading and argue the Eighth Circuit has held “the facts and circumstances of the other incidents must be ‘substantially similar' to the case at bar to be admissible.” Lovett ex rel. v. Union Pacific R. Co., 201 F.3d 1074, 1081 (8th Cir. 2000). Defendants specifically refer to testimony by Mr. Arndt, Plaintiffs' expert witness, referring to a collection of purported other similar incidents listed in spreadsheets in his file. Defendants state Mr. Arndt's only criteria defining “similar incident” are the following: (1) a second or third generation 4Runner (model years 1989 to 2002); (2) with no evidence of non-original equipment manufacturer components on the vehicle; and (3) an untripped, on-road rollover. They further state the materials Mr. Arndt relied on in making his list are “woefully insufficient” to make that connection.

         In their Response, Plaintiffs cite Adams v. Toyota, 867 F.3d 903, 911 (8th Cir. 2017), stating other similar incident evidence “may be relevant to prove notice of the defects, the defendants' ability to correct known defects, the magnitude of the danger, the product's lack of safety for intended uses, or causation.” Although they agree it must be “substantially similar, ” they state such a finding is case-specific and other incidents need not occur in precisely the same manner to qualify. They claim Mr. Arndt considered a large amount of factors in analyzing other 4Runner rollovers, such as crash reports and legal pleadings, which allowed him to separate those rollovers in which the mechanism of the rollover was attributable to the vehicle's inherent characteristics and those which crashed because of some other factor.

         In their Reply, Defendants state Plaintiffs' other similar incident evidence should not be admitted because it is unauthenticated hearsay data and they cannot reliably show they are substantially similar.

         After reviewing both Lovett and Adams, this Court has determined it is compelled to pay careful attention to the risk of “raising ‘extraneous controversial points, leading to a confusion of the issues, and presenting undue prejudice disproportionate to its usefulness'…before admitting evidence of a limited number of OSIs.” Adams, 867 F.3d at 914 (quoting First Sec. Bank v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 152 F.3d 877, 879-80 (8th Cir. 1993)). Here, this Court finds the three criteria Mr. Arndt relied on to determine OSIs can be sufficient to eliminate these dangers.

         Plaintiffs and their experts should limit their OSI evidence to no more than five vehicle rollovers involving (1) the same model year vehicle; (2) vehicles with over 100, 000 miles of use with no modifications; and (3) the same topographical environment. For any factors, Defendants are free to “argue to the jury that the evidence is not persuasive by pointing out dissimilarities.” Id. (quoting Lewy v. Remington Arms Co., 836 F.2d 1104, 1107-09 (8th Cir. 1988))

         D. Untimely Disclosed and Unreliable Records and Opinions of Dr. Eugene Childress Regarding Seatbelt Usage, Injury Causation, and Plaintiffs' Damages

         Defendants argue Plaintiffs should not be allowed to make reference to or provide any evidence regarding Dr. Eugene Childress. Dr. Childress is a doctor of osteopathic medicine who treated Ms. Smith on several occasions before and after the accident. Defendants state Dr. Childress' reports contain numerous unsupported and unreliable statements and opinions concerning the circumstances of the vehicle crash, the cause of Ms. Smith's injuries, Ms. Smith's seatbelt usage during the crash, and the financial, emotional, and other effects of the crash on Plaintiffs' lives. They state these medical records should be excluded as purported expert opinions, non-expert speculative opinion testimony, and/or inadmissible hearsay.

         In their response, Plaintiffs state Dr. Childress should be permitted to testify that he believes part of Ms. Smith's injuries were caused by the seatbelt during the accident and because Defendants will likely introduce evidence Ms. Smith was thrown from her vehicle because she was not wearing her seatbelt. They state Dr. Childress did employ a reliable methodology in coming to the conclusions he provides in his “proper medical causation testimony.” They further argue Dr. Childress should be able to testify regarding Ms. Smith's ability to perform activities of everyday living.

         In their Reply, Defendants state they are only asking for a limine instruction requiring Plaintiffs to refrain from mentioning Dr. Childress' records without first approaching the bench to obtain a ruling on admissibility. They also ask this Court for the opportunity to talk to Dr. Childress outside of the presence of the jury to explore the basis, methodology, and qualifications surrounding the development of his specific opinions reflected in his medical records.

         This motion is denied except as to references in Dr. Childress' reports concerning mechanical failure of the vehicle, personal hardship on the part of the parties, and their loss of business and reference to the restaurant as a bar. The question of whether to exclude any evidence contained in Dr. Childress' reports that relates to the seatbelt issue is under submission to the Court. Parties will convene and examine the doctor's records, agree on the redactions, and submit the redacted versions to the Court for in camera review.

         E. Testimony of Untimely Disclosed Witness Steven Chatfield

         Defendants ask this Court to exclude any evidence regarding the claims of Mr. Steven Chatfield described in his February 20, 2018 affidavit. On April 3, 2018, this Court found Defendants waited until well past the discovery deadline to send an email to Defendants' counsel indicating he was an individual likely to have discoverable information and that this delay was not justified because Plaintiffs knew of Mr. Chatfield since before the lawsuit was filed [ECF No. 103]. It held it would be prejudicial to allow Plaintiffs to file an affidavit as an exhibit to their Motion for Summary Judgment on Defendants' Affirmative Defenses, and granted Defendants' Motion to Strike Plaintiffs' Supplemental Exhibit Affidavit of Steven Chatfield.

         In their Response, Plaintiffs ask this Court to reconsider this ruling, reiterating the arguments they made in their Memorandum in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Strike Plaintiffs' Supplemental Exhibit of Steven Chatfield.

         The Court will grant this motion.

         F. Evidence Regarding Recalls of Other Products

         Defendants ask this Court to exclude any evidence regarding any alleged defects or recalls of products other than the products and vehicles that are specifically at issue in this case. Defendants state this evidence is irrelevant and prejudicial, and should be excluded. They claim under Missouri law, Plaintiffs can only provide evidence of a recall campaign if they can show the defect at issue was involved in a recall, which they have not done.

         In their Response, Plaintiffs state they have no intention of making reference to any alleged defects or recalls of this or any other Toyota vehicles, nor do Plaintiffs anticipate that any such evidence would be necessary. Should Plaintiffs find such evidence is necessary, they will approach the bench before making reference to it in open court.

         The Court will grant this motion.

         G. Evidence Regarding Suspension Recall on the Subject 4Runner

         Defendants argue Plaintiffs should not be allowed to reference or put on any evidence of the Toyota Special Service Campaign 20A, regarding a modification to the rear suspension in certain 1996 to early 1998 model two-wheel drive 4Runners. This was a 2002 recall to modify the suspension in certain 4Runners after ongoing testing “revealed that a combination of heavy loading (simultaneous loading to the rear gross axle weight rating (near GAWR) and gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) with specific severe steering maneuvers could cause certain 96- 98 two-wheel drive 4Runners to lose directional stability.” Defendants state it is undisputed that the recall condition was not present in the subject 4Runner at the time of the rollover crash in this case.

         In their Response, Plaintiffs state they have no intention of making reference to this recall.

         The Court will grant this motion.

         H. Lost Wages, Earnings, Income, or Financial Status

         Defendants state Plaintiffs should not be allowed to reference or put on any evidence of Plaintiffs' finances, inability to pay medical or other expenses, non-existent or insufficient insurance, or any other matter related to Plaintiffs' financial status because such evidence is irrelevant and has no probative value to any issue in this case. Defendants also state they should not be allowed to make any reference to or put on any evidence concerning any lost wages, earnings or income allegedly suffered by Plaintiffs because a claim for such losses was “voluntarily abandoned” by Plaintiffs and thus such evidence is accordingly irrelevant, confusing, and prejudicial. In their Response, Plaintiffs state they have no intention of seeking damages for lost wages, earnings, or income.

         The Court will grant this motion.

         I. Size of Company or Net Worth

         Defendants state Plaintiffs should not be allowed to make any mention of or put on any evidence suggesting the jury should consider the size, net worth, or financial status of Toyota. They argue comparisons between Toyota and Plaintiffs would be irrelevant and would prejudice the jury against the rights of Toyota. In their Response, Plaintiffs argue the size and net worth of Toyota is relevant and applicable in the punitive damages phase of the bifurcated trial.

         The Court will grant this motion as to the first phase of trial, but it will overrule this motion ...


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