By Miriam A. Friedman, J.D.
In an action brought by the parents of a child found lifeless in a "Pack ‘n Play" play yard, expert reports offered by the plaintiffs to support a design defect claim against the product’s manufacturer were not reliable or relevant and, thus, were inadmissible, a federal district court in California found, granting the company’s motions to exclude the reports. In the absence of adequate causation evidence, the court also granted the manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment (Rovid v. Graco Children’s Products, Inc., November 9, 2018, Hamilton, P.).
After an investigation into the child’s death, including an autopsy, the county deputy coroner determined that the cause of death was consistent with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The child’s parents brought product liability claims against Graco Children’s Products, Inc., the manufacturer of the play yard, and Newell Brands Inc., Graco’s parent company, asserting that some defect in the play yard caused the child to rebreathe her own carbon dioxide. The manufacturer filed a motion for summary judgment on all claims as well as Daubert motions to exclude reports submitted by two experts.
Expert testimony. The court found that the testimony of both experts retained by the decedent’s parents to opine as to the play yard’s mattress was not sufficiently reliable or relevant and, thus, was inadmissible under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 589 (1993).
The court critiqued several aspects of the methodology of the first expert, noting, first and foremost, that his results were "the product of a single test." Furthermore, even if the court were to accept the methodology, it found that his "tests (and results) [did] not support his broad conclusions." For similar reasons, the court found that the testimony did not meet the relevancy requirement, providing "an independent basis for exclusion." In addition, the court excluded the expert’s rebuttal report because it "not only include[d] theories never previously disclosed but in fact contain[ed] theories inconsistent with [his] initial report." Finally, the court characterized the expert’s supplemental report as "the exact type of supplemental report that the Ninth Circuit and courts across this Circuit have held should be excluded or struck under Rule 37(c)."
Turning to the second expert, the court concluded that nothing in his report indicated that he inspected and analyzed any mattress, including the subject play yard. Furthermore, the report was "devoid of any findings, results, or opinions." Thus, the court was unable to "determine whether his testimony reflect[ed] scientific knowledge or whether it [was] the product of ‘good science.’" Similarly, because he made no attempt to "tie his general background to the facts of this action or to any relevant issue in this action," the court could not determine whether his testimony was "relevant to the task at hand."
Summary judgment. The court noted that the decedent’s parents had "put forth a single theory" about how the play yard’s design allegedly caused the child’s death: the mattress caused her to rebreathe her own CO2. However, the court found that the expert reports "fail[ed] to settle on how the mattress caused rebreathing." First, because the court had excluded the expert testimony, there was no evidence whatsoever about "whether the subject mattress’ design causes increased rebreathing." And even had the expert testimony been admissible, the court continued, the parents had conceded that the expert would not be used to "opine that the product was defective or that it contained ‘excessive preventable danger.’" In addition, the court found that the expert’s testing could "at best" be used for "ranking different sleep surfaces relative to one another." Finally, the court concluded that the parents lacked evidence tying the expert’s test results to live infants or tying the "unspecified level of CO2 rebreathing" to an objective standard. As such, "there [was] simply too great an analytical gap between the data and the opinion proffered."
The case is No. 17-cv-01506-PJH.
Attorneys: Joseph W. Carcione, Jr. (Law Offices of Joseph W. Carcione, Jr., APC) for Bill Rovid and Lisa Rovid. Steven Edward Swaney (Schiff Hardin LLP) for Graco Children's Products Inc. and Newell Rubbermaid Inc.
Companies: Graco Children's Products Inc.; Newell Rubbermaid Inc.
MainStory: TopStory DesignManufacturingNews ExpertEvidenceNews EvidentiaryNews ChildrensProductsNews CaliforniaNews
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