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Prall v. Ford Motor Co.

United States District Court, D. Nevada

January 24, 2017




         I. SUMMARY

         This case involves an alleged manufacturing defect that led to an automobile accident. Before the Court are Defendant Ford Motor Company's (“Ford”) Motion to Exclude Testimony of Rocco Avellini (“Motion to Exclude”) (ECF No. 38) and Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”) (ECF No. 39). The Court has reviewed these motions as well as Plaintiff Marilyn Ellen Prall's (“Prall”) responses (ECF Nos. 40, 41) and Ford's replies (ECF Nos. 42, 43). For the reasons discussed below, Ford's Motion to Exclude is granted and its Motion for Summary Judgement is granted in part and denied in part.


         In February 2013, while driving her 2003 Ford Taurus home from work, Prall rear-ended the vehicle in front of her. According to Prall, she was driving in stop-and-go traffic when she saw the car in front of her slow down or stop. She attempted to do the same, but her car continued to accelerate as she pressed the brake pedal, and she slammed into the stopped car. (ECF No. 39-2 at 10.) Paramedics arrived at the scene and took Prall to the hospital, where emergency room doctors informed her she had fractured her right leg.[1] (Id. at 14-15.)

         The driver of a 2003 Ford Taurus changes speed by controlling the amount of air entering the engine through a throttle plate. (ECF No. 39-6 at 7.) The driver can open the throttle plate by either pressing the accelerator pedal, which is connected to the throttle plate by a cable, or using the cruise control system, which is connected by a second cable called the speed control cable. (Id.) The end of the speed control cable has plastic pieces that clip into a collar to secure it in place. (Id.)

         On June 21, 2013, a few months after Prall's accident, Ford implemented a program called Customer Satisfaction Program 13B04 (“Program 13B04”). In a notice about the program Ford sent to its dealers, it acknowledged that the speed control cable in certain vehicles, including Prall's Taurus, “may become susceptible to damage or becoming partially disconnected during under hood vehicle maintenance.” (ECF No. 39-8.) According to the notice, if the speed control cable slides out of its collar, it could tangle and interfere with “the throttle's full return to idle when the accelerator pedal is released, potentially resulting in an elevated idle.” (Id.) Ford instructed dealers to install a clip to reinforce the collar around the cable and, depending on the condition of the collar retention tabs, to replace the speed control cable itself. (Id.)

         Prall took her Taurus to a dealership on August 24, 2013. A mechanic at the dealership inspected the speed control assembly and determined that the collar retention tabs were cracked but still present. Accordingly, he attached a collar reinforcement clip but did not replace the speed control cable. (ECF No. 39-9 at 4-5.)

         Prall filed suit in state court on July 17, 2014, asserting a number of claims based on the allegation that the accident was caused by a mechanical failure - specifically a bound speed control cable as identified by Program 13B04. (ECF No. 1-1.) Pursuant to the parties' stipulation, the Court dismissed several of Prall's claims, leaving only claims for strict product liability and negligence. (ECF No. 23.) Ford now moves to exclude Prall's proposed expert testimony and for summary judgment on these remaining two claims.


         A. Legal Standard

         Fed. R. Evid. 702 permits a “witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education [to] 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 Supreme Court provided additional guidance on Rule 702 and its application in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), and Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999). Daubert focused on scientific testimony and Kumho Tire clarified that Daubert's principles also apply to technical and specialized knowledge. See Kumho, 526 U.S. at 141, 147-49. The trial court has “considerable leeway” in deciding how to determine the reliability of an expert's testimony and whether the testimony is in fact reliable. Id. at 152. The “test of reliability is ‘flexible, ' and Daubert's list of specific factors neither necessarily nor exclusively applies to all experts or in every case.” Id. at 141.

         The Ninth Circuit has emphasized that “Rule 702 is applied consistent with the liberal thrust of the Federal Rules and their general approach of relaxing the traditional barriers to opinion testimony.” Jinro Am. Inc. v. Secure Investments, Inc., 266 F.3d 993, 1004 (9th Cir.), opinion amended on denial of reh'g, 272 F.3d 1289 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). “An expert witness - unlike other witnesses - is permitted wide latitude to offer opinions, including those that are not based on firsthand knowledge or observation, so long as the expert's opinion [has] a reliable basis in the knowledge and experience of his discipline.” Id. (citations and quotation marks omitted). Shaky but admissible evidence should be attacked by cross examination, contrary evidence, and attention to the burden of proof, rather than excluded. Primiano v. Cook, 598 F.3d 558, 564 (9th Cir. 2010), as amended (Apr. 27, 2010)

         B. ...

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