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McMahon v. Robert Bosch Tool Corp.

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

November 5, 2019

JEFFREY MCMAHON, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT BOSCH TOOL CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STEPHEN R. CLARK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Robert Bosch Tool Corporation and Lowe's Home Centers, LLC's Daubert Motion to Bar Philip Buckley [58] and Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [82]. The Court grants both motions and dismisses this matter.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 29, 2016, Plaintiff Jeffrey McMahon suffered injuries to his right hand when the auxiliary handle of a RotoZip Model RZ20 hand-held spiral saw (the “RZ20” or the “saw”) he was using detached from the body of the saw, causing McMahon to drop the saw while the blade was still in motion. The RZ20 saw was manufactured by Defendant Robert Bosch Tool Corporation (“Bosch”) and sold by Defendant Lowe's Home Centers, LLC. McMahon asserts claims against both Defendants under theories of strict and negligent products liability for design defect, negligent failure to warn, and negligent supply of a dangerous instrumentality.

         At the time of the accident, McMahon had installed and was using a wood carving blade with deep grooved teeth in the saw's “Zipmate” attachment, although the saw's user manual expressly warns against using wood cutting toothed blades in the attachment.[1] Immediately before the accident McMahon was standing on a stepladder holding the saw in his left hand by the auxiliary handle and bracing himself with his right hand against the header of a door frame he was attempting to cut. Multiple pages of the user manual instruct users to always hold the saw with two hands.

         The saw is designed to require two actions before the auxiliary handle can be detached. First, the user must slide a lock pin to either side and, while holding the lock pin, depress a separate handle release button. User Manual, Doc. 59-1, pg. 9. McMahon testified that the saw's auxiliary handle detached even though he did not press the handle release button, and then the saw “danced along” the door header and across his hand, cutting his fingers. After the accident, the part of the latching mechanism that holds the auxiliary handle to the saw was found to be damaged, as a portion of a plastic receptacle shelf was broken off (sometimes referred to hereinafter as the “chip”). McMahon testified he inspected the saw before the accident and did not observe any damage to the latching mechanism. McMahon testified he would not have used the saw if he had seen any damage to the latching mechanism because it would have been unsafe and the handle could come loose. As a result of the damage to the latching mechanism, the saw's auxiliary handle will detach from the saw when a user presses the handle release button without first sliding the lock pin.

         McMahon retained Mr. Buckley, a mechanical engineer, as an expert witness to testify concerning defects in the RZ20's design. Mr. Buckley's expert report offers the following opinions: (1) the handle connections on the saw are defective and caused the release of the saw that injured McMahon; (2) the handle connection design is defective and its failure is highly foreseeable because (a) the connection method on the movable latch invites wear and is susceptible to wear induced tolerances that reduce handle hold force, (b) wear and tear reduces the holding force available, and (c) the two-factor locking scheme is reduced to a one-factor locking scheme in some cases. Buckley Report, Doc. 59-6, pg. 6. Mr. Buckley also opined that the handle release button's placement on the saw is defective because it promotes user thumb placement on the button, and the saw should have had an interlock device to stop the motor once the auxiliary handle detached.

         Defendants move to exclude Mr. Buckley's expert opinions pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), and move for summary judgment, arguing among other things that McMahon cannot prove the saw was defective.

         II. STANDARDS

         A. Standards for McMahon's Claims

         The parties applied Missouri law to McMahon's claims so the Court does so as well. To prevail on a strict liability products defect claim under Missouri law, McMahon “‘must prove that the product was defective and dangerous when put to a reasonable use anticipated by the manufacturer and that the plaintiff sustained damage as a direct result of the defect.'” Sappington v. Skyjack, Inc., 512 F.3d 440, 446 (8th Cir. 2008) (quoting Peters v. General Motors Corp., 200 S.W.3d 1, 17 (Mo.Ct.App. 2006)). A design defect claim involves a product that is unreasonably dangerous because of the nature of its design, regardless of whether a warning about the product is given. Moore v. Ford Motor Co., 332 S.W.3d 749, 757 (Mo. 2011); Smith v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 275 S.W.3d 749, 92 (Mo.Ct.App. 2008). “The focus is on the product and its condition when sold, not on the manufacturer's conduct.” Johnson v. Auto Handling Corp., 523 S.W.3d 452, 466 (Mo. 2017) (citing Moore, 332 S.W.3d at 764).

         Claims of “negligent failure to warn-and by analogy negligent design defect-focus[] on what the manufacturer knew rather than on the product.” Johnson, 523 S.W.3d at 466 (citing Moore, 332 S.W.3d at 764). “To prove a negligent design claim under Missouri law, a plaintiff must show that the defendant breached its duty of care in the design of a product and that this breach caused the injury.” Stanley v. Cottrell, Inc., 784 F.3d 454, 463 (8th Cir. 2015) (citing Stevens v. Durbin-Durco, Inc., 377 S.W.2d 343, 346-47 (Mo. 1964)); see also Hoover's Dairy, Inc. v. Mid-America Dairymen, Inc., 700 S.W.2d 426, 431 (Mo. 1985) (elements of negligence claim under Missouri law).

         For a negligent failure to warn claim, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant designed the product at issue, the product had a defect or hazard, the defendant failed to use ordinary care to adequately warn of the risk of harm from the alleged defect or hazard, and as a direct result of the defendant's failure to adequately warn the plaintiff sustained damage. Johnson, 523 S.W.3d at 465, 466; Moore, 332 S.W.3d at 764; see Missouri Approved Jury Instructions (“MAI”) § 25.09 (7th ed.). The causation element involves two separate requirements. Arnold v. Ingersoll-Rand Co., 834 S.W.2d 192, 194 (Mo. 1992). “First, the plaintiffs' injuries must be caused by the product from which the warning is missing.” Id. “Second, plaintiffs must show that a warning would have altered the behavior of the individuals involved in the accident.” Id.

         To establish a claim for negligently supplying a dangerous instrumentality, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant supplied an instrumentality for use that had a defect or hazard and was therefore dangerous when put to a reasonably expected use, the instrumentality was put to a reasonably expected use, the defendant had no reason to believe that those for whose use the instrumentality was supplied would realize its dangerous condition, the defendant knew or had information from which it, in the exercise of ordinary care, should have known of the dangerous condition, the defendant failed to adequately warn of the dangerous condition and was thereby negligent and, as a direct result of the negligence, the plaintiff sustained damage. Bland v. IMCO Recycling, Inc., 67 S.W.3d 673, 682-83 (Mo.Ct.App. 2002); see MAI § 25.10(A) (7th ed.).

         Whether proceeding under a theory of strict liability or negligence, a plaintiff must prove the defect in the product or the defendant's negligence in the design proximately caused the plaintiff's injuries. Strong v. American Cyanamid Co., 261 S.W.3d 493, 506 (Mo.Ct.App. 2007), overruled on other grounds by Badahman v. Catering St. Louis, 395 S.W.3d 29 (Mo. 2013); Willard v. Bic Corp., 788 F.Supp. 1059, 1063 (W.D. Mo. 1991) (citing Garrett v. Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co., 631 S.W.2d 652, 654 (Mo.Ct.App. 1982)). Without evidence of a defect, a plaintiff cannot establish that a defect proximately caused his injuries. In such circumstances, summary judgment for the defendant manufacturer is appropriate. Pro Serv. Auto., L.L.C. v. Lenan Corp., 469 F.3d 1210, 1216 (8th Cir. 2006); Fireman's Fund Ins. Co. v. Canon U.S.A., Inc., 394 F.3d 1054, 1060-61 (8th Cir. 2005).

         Missouri law does not require expert testimony in a products liability case unless the determination of a relevant factual issue involves information so complex or technical that no fact finder could resolve the issue without help. Pro Serv. Auto., 469 F.3d at 1214; Stone v. Missouri. Dep't of Health & Senior Servs., 350 S.W.3d 14, 21 (Mo. 2011). Here, McMahon alleges the RZ20 saw's defective design caused its auxiliary handle to detach even though he did not press the handle release button because of damage on the latching mechanism's receptacle shelf. Whether the subject saw was susceptible to such damage to an extent that rendered it unreasonably dangerous requires consideration of mechanical engineering and product design topics outside the general knowledge of a lay jury, including the materials involved, the size of the components used, and the forces imparted on those components during use of the product, and during installation of the handle and foreseeable events such as dropping the tool. See Pro Serv. Auto., 469 F.3d at 1214 (requiring expert testimony on causation for the plaintiff's strict products liability claim given the complexities involved in the operation of the equipment at issue); Wood v. Robert Bosch Tool Corp., No. 4:13CV01888 TCM, 2015 WL 5638050, at *6 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 24, 2015) (requiring expert testimony on causation in case alleging defective design of consumer table saw).

         In addition, “Missouri courts have . . . concluded that ‘[w]arnings and how people react to warnings are arguably subjects about which persons having no particular training are incapable of forming accurate opinions.'” Bachtel v. TASER Int'l, Inc., 747 F.3d 965, 970 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Cole v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 967 S.W.2d 176, 185 (Mo.Ct.App. 1998)); see Bryant v. Laiko Int'l Co., No. 1:05CV00161 ERW, 2006 WL 2788520, at *10 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 26, 2006) (recognizing “Missouri courts have always allowed, and often required expert testimony” on the question of failure to warn).

         McMahon offers Mr. Buckley's expert opinions to support his allegations that the RZ20 saw was defectively designed. For the following reasons, the Court excludes these opinions as unreliable. Mr. Buckley offers no opinions on the adequacy of the warnings in the saw's user manual. Because McMahon has no other evidence of causation, the Court grants Defendants summary judgment on McMahon's claims.

         B. Standard for Admission of Expert Testimony

         Federal law governs the admissibility of expert testimony in diversity cases in federal court. Clark ex rel. Clark v. Heidrick, 150 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir. 1998). Federal Rule of Evidence 702 controls the admission of expert opinion and 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 ...

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