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The Estate of Ravenell v. Pugmill Systems, Inc.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

December 15, 2014

The Estate of Lamar Ravenell, by his personal representative, Debbie Ravenell, Plaintiff,
v.
Pugmill Systems, Inc.; WEG Electric Corporation; and CMI Terex Corporation, Defendants

For Lamar Ravenell, The Estate of Lamar Ravenell by his Personal Representative, Debbie Ravenell personal representative Debbie Ravenell, Plaintiff: Kaitlyn Rebecca Swicegood, Max C Sparwasser, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Max Sparwasser Law Firm, Mt Pleasant, SC.

For Pugmill Systems Inc, Defendant: Edward D Buckley, Jr, Nicholas James Rivera, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Young Clement Rivers, Charleston, SC.

For CMI Terex Corporation, Defendant: Patrick Coleman Wooten, LEAD ATTORNEY, Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough (Ch), Charleston, SC; Cary E Hiltgen, James Randolph Baker, PRO HAC VICE, Hiltgen and Brewer, Oklahoma City, OK.

For Sanders Brothers Construction Company, Interested Party: Steven L Smith, LEAD ATTORNEY, Smith and Collins, Charleston, SC.

ORDER

PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY, United States District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendants CMI Terex Corporation's (" CMI Terex") and Pugmill Systems, Inc.'s (" Pugmill Systems") (collectively " Defendants") respective motions in limine to exclude the opinions of Plaintiff's proposed expert witness Stephen Fournier, P.E. (ECF Nos. 92, 97) (collectively " Motions to Exclude Plaintiff's Expert"), as well as Defendants' separate motions for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 114, 115) (collectively " Motions for Summary Judgment"). The Court held a hearing on October 7, 2014, and entertained argument on all pending motions.[1] At that time, the Court granted Defendants' Motions to Exclude Plaintiff's Expert and Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment. This written Order serves to memorialize the Court's oral rulings and to resolve any remaining issues taken under advisement.

BACKGROUND

On March 6, 2012, Lamar Ravenell, an employee of Sanders Brothers Construction Company (" Sanders Brothers"), was fatally injured while performing maintenance on an asphalt mixer known as a pugmill. A pugmill is a component of a hot-mix asphalt plant. A hot-mix asphalt plant is an assembly of mechanical and electronic equipment where aggregates, recycled materials, or other additives are blended, heated, dried, and mixed with binder to produce asphalt mixtures meeting specified requirements. Pugmill Systems manufactured this particular pugmill, and WEG Electric Corporation (" WEG") manufactured the pugmill's motor. Pugmill Systems sold the pugmill at issue to CMI Corporation, a predecessor of CMI Terex, which in turn sold the pugmill to Sanders Brothers on or about September 8, 1995, as part of an asphalt plant designed by CMI Terex. The asphalt plant, including the pugmill, was delivered to Sanders Brothers' Summerville, South Carolina location in November 1995.

At the time of the accident, Mr. Ravenell was attempting to clean or otherwise maintain the pugmill's paddles. The covers to the pugmill had been removed, and Mr. Ravenell was positioned inside of the mixer. It is undisputed that prior to entering the machine, Mr. Ravenell did not properly " lockout" and " tagout" the pugmill's energy supply.[2] While Mr. Ravenell was inside of the pugmill, a fellow employee, Marques Raspberry, entered the asphalt plant's energy center to test a different piece of equipment. Mr. Raspberry mistakenly activated and started the pugmill, trapping Mr. Ravenell inside of the pugmill. Due to the injuries he sustained in the accident, and the resulting hemorrhaging and cardiopulmonary arrest, Mr. Ravenell was subsequently pronounced dead at the hospital.

On February 5, 2013, Mr. Ravenell's 56-year-old, disabled widow, Debbie Ravenell (" Plaintiff"), as the personal representative of her husband's estate, instituted this products liability action in state court against Pugmill Systems and WEG.[3] Plaintiff's Complaint alleged claims as to each Defendant based on theories of: (1) strict products liability, (2) products liability based on negligence, (3) breach of implied warranty of merchantability, and (4) breach of implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. The claims are based on theories of inadequate warnings and improper design. In particular, Plaintiff alleges that the pugmill was defective because it had neither an emergency stop (" e-stop") nor an interlock device that prevented the machine from operating when the covers were removed, as well as because it lacked adequate warnings. Plaintiff seeks actual, consequential, and punitive damages in an amount to be determined by a jury. On March 26, 2013, Pugmill Systems removed the case to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on May 28, 2013, asserting identical claims against CMI Terex.

In advance of trial, the Parties filed a number of motions in limine, including the present requests to exclude the opinions of Stephen Fournier, P.E. (" Fournier" or " Mr. Fournier") filed by CMI Terex and Pugmill Systems on May 2, 2014, and May 13, 2014, respectively. Plaintiff responded in opposition to the Motions to Exclude Plaintiff's Expert on May 14, 2014, and Defendants each filed a Reply on May 27, 2014. Additionally, on May 28, 2014, CMI Terex and Pugmill Systems separately moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff responded in opposition to the Motions for Summary Judgment on June 16, 2014, and Defendants each filed a Reply on June 26, 2014. Accordingly, the pending motions are ripe for consideration. Following extensive briefing and oral argument, the Court now issues the instant Order.

JURISDICTION

The Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, as there is complete diversity of citizenship among the Parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. Plaintiff is a citizen and resident of the State of South Carolina. Pugmill Systems is a corporation organized under the laws of Tennessee with its principal place of business in Tennessee. CMI Terex is a corporation organized under the laws of Oklahoma with its principal place of business in Oklahoma. Finally, Plaintiff seeks damages in excess of $75, 000. Therefore, this Court has diversity jurisdiction over this case.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

I. Expert Testimony

The introduction and admissibility of expert testimony is governed by Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. Rule 702 provides as follows:

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 ...

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