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Acadia Insurance Co. v. Fluid Management, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maine

August 30, 2016

ACADIA INSURANCE COMPANY, as subrogee of ELDREDGE LUMBER AND HARDWARE, INC., Plaintiff.
v.
FLUID MANAGEMENT, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING MOTION TO EXCLUDE PLAINTIFF'S EXPERT WITNESS

          JOHN A. WOODCOCK, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Court denies a motion to exclude an expert witness. The Court concludes that the objection to a portion of the expert's proposed testimony is an objection to the probative value of the evidence underlying his opinion, which is a matter for jury resolution, and the Court finds that the remaining portion of the objected to expert testimony would be helpful to the trier of fact.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The parties are now satisfied that a plastic wire nut caused a paint mixer to catch fire and burn down a hardware store. Acadia Insurance Company, the hardware store's insurer, is proceeding against Fluid Management, Inc. (FMI), the seller and servicer of the Accutinter paint mixing machine, on the grounds that FMI either improperly installed the wire nut or failed to notice the wire nut during its servicing of the machine. Pl.'s First Am. Compl. (ECF No. 64).

         Acadia listed John J. Mulcahy, a professional engineer, as an expert witness. Mr. Mulcahy issued an amended expert report on October 30, 2015, in which he expressed the opinion that “the most likely cause of ignition causing electrical beading and the fire in the paint machine” was an “irregular wire nut connection.” Pl.'s Resp. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Exclude the Test. of John Mulcahy, Attach. 5, Addendum 1, Expert Report of John J. Mulcahy, P.E. at 3 (ECF No. 75). Mr. Mulcahy also opined that the irregular wire nut connection was not part of the factory installation, and he excluded the designer and manufacturer of the paint machine as being responsible for the fire. Id. Noting that the wire nut was located “in the middle span of the wires that went to the stir motors, ” he wrote that “[t]he presence of the wire nut in this location indicates that this was an improper modification or repair to the paint machine wiring.” Id. at 4.

         II. THE PARTIES' POSITIONS

         A. FMI's Motion

         On March 16, 2016, FMI moved to exclude Mr. Mulcahy as an expert witness. Mot. to Exclude Test. of Pl.'s Expert John Mulcahy (ECF No. 73) (Def.'s Mot.). Citing Mr. Mulcahy's deposition testimony, FMI notes that Mr. Mulcahy admitted that he “was unable to determine when the wire nut was installed, by whom it was installed, whether it was present when FMI or its agents performed maintenance on the machine and that he lacked the expertise to say whether or not a technician would have been able to even see the wire nut or touch it while doing the preventive maintenance.” Id. at 2 (citing Attach. 1, Dep. of John J. Mulcahy, P.E. 29:12-30:25, 40:12-41:5) (Mulcahy Dep. I). Based on these concessions, FMI contends that Mr. Mulcahy's expert opinions are speculative and should be excluded.[1] Id.

         B. Acadia's Response

         Acadia responded on April 6, 2016. Pl.'s Resp. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Exclude the Test. of John Mulcahy (ECF No. 75) (Pl.'s Opp'n). Acadia first contends that Mr. Mulcahy had a factual basis to conclude that FMI was responsible for servicing the paint mixer. Id. at 3-4. Acadia then pointed out that Mr. Mulcahy testified that there would have been no reason to place the wire nut in the location where it was found in the paint mixer. Id. (citing Attach. 7, Dep. of John J. Mulcahy, P.E. 60:15- 18). Acadia also attached a portion of Mr. Mulcahy's deposition testimony in which he reviewed the contents of the preventative maintenance manual and agreed that in following the preventative maintenance requirements, a service technician would be required to check the machine's circuits and would have to remove the back of the paint mixer and access various areas of the machine to do so. Id. 61:23-63:23.

         C. FMI's Reply

         FMI replied on April 20, 2016. Def.'s Reply Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Exclude Test. of John Mulcahy (ECF No. 76). After reiterating its previous arguments, FMI notes that Mr. Mulcahy had stated he had “no way of knowing whether the wire nut was present in the Accutinter at any time that FMI was doing maintenance on it.” Id. at 2. Furthermore, FMI argues that Mr. Mulcahy conceded that “he does not have any expertise regarding maintenance of an Accutinter or whether a technician would have seen the wire nut while doing routine maintenance.” Id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Under Federal Rule of Evidence 702, 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 facts of the case. Fed.R.Evid. 702. FMI focuses on two issues: first, whether Mr. Mulcahy has sufficient facts to express his opinions, Rule ...


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