Henderson v. Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America, LTD. et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER directing that: (1) defendant's 150 Daubert motion/MOTION in Limine is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part as set out in this opinion and order; (2) defendant's 149 MOTION for Summary Judgment is DENIED. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 11/21/13. (Attachments: # 1 civil appeals checklist)(djy, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
WILLIAM M. HENDERSON,
GOODYEAR DUNLOP TIRES
NORTH AMERICA, LTD.,
GOODYEAR DUNLOP TIRES
NORTH AMERICA, LTD.,
) CASE NO. 3:11-CV-295-WKW
) CASE NO. 3:12-CV-510-WKW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the court are Defendant’s motion for summary judgment (Doc. #
149) and motion in limine to exclude Plaintiffs’ expert, William Woehrle on the
basis of Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993). (Doc. # 150).
The motions are fully briefed. (Docs. # 168, 169, 170, 172.) A Daubert hearing
was held on November 20, 2013. Based on Mr. Woehrle’s testimony in court and
the reasons that follow, Defendant’s Daubert motion is due to be granted in part
and denied in part and the motion for summary judgment is due to be denied.
Defendant’s Daubert Motion
Defendant argues that Plaintiffs’ expert, William Woehrle, is not qualified to
testify as to the alleged design defects of the subject tire. Mr. Woehrle contends
that the deflation was caused by a design defect he describes as “insufficient skim
rubber thickness over the chafer fabric.” During the Daubert hearing, Plaintiffs
withdrew their claim alleging a design defect, and thus, any testimony regarding
the chafer fabric of the subject tire will not be admissible.
Defendant’s motion to exclude testimony by Mr. Woehrle regarding the design
defects of the subject tire is due to be granted.
Defendant further argues that Mr. Woehrle is not qualified to testify as to the
alleged manufacturing defects of the subject tire. Mr. Woehrle contends that the
deflation is attributable to two manufacturing defects – “nonfill in the bead heel”
and “toe ring flash on the bead face.” Defendant argues that “Mr. Woehrle is not
qualified to render such opinions through knowledge, skill, experience, training, or
education” because he does not have an engineering degree or license and he has
never designed a motorcycle tire.
Under Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence and Daubert, the trial
court plays a “gatekeeping role” to ensure that all scientific testimony or evidence
admitted is not only relevant, but also reliable. Rule 702 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 methods;
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the
facts of the case.
Fed. R. Evid. 702; see also Daubert, 509 U.S. at 579.
Scientific and/or technical evidence is reliable if it is based on an assertion
that is grounded in methods of science.
“The test for reliability ‘is not the
correctness of the expert’s conclusions but the soundness of his methodology.’”
Daubert, 509 U.S. at 595–96; Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 43 F.3d 1311,
1318 (9th Cir. 1995). The Supreme Court further has recognized that there is a
range in which experts might reasonably differ on issues of science, and that such
conflicting evidence should be admitted, not excluded, to aid the jury in deciding
those issues. See Kuhmo Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 153 (1999);
accord Globetti v. Sandoz Pharm. Corp., 111 F. Supp. 2d 1174, 1177 (N.D. Ala.
2000) (“It is not part of the trial judge’s gatekeeping role to determine whether the
proffered opinion is scientifically correct or certain in the way one might think of
the law of gravity.
The gatekeeping role is addressed to mere evidentiary
admissibility; it is the fact-finder’s role (usually a jury) to determine whether the
opinion is correct or worthy of credence.”).
As noted in Plaintiffs’ briefs, as well as during the testimony heard in court,
Mr. Woehrle has extensive experience in tire manufacturing and failure analysis
and thus, is qualified to testify as to defects in motorcycle tires. Mr. Woehrle’s
experience with tires is vast. From 1966 to 1991, he was employed by Uniroyal
and Uniroyal-Goodrich Tire Company. While employed by Uniroyal, he held a
variety of positions, all of which involved examining, investigating, analyzing,
testing, and reporting tire failures. In 1966, when he started at Uniroyal, he was
the Development Engineer in Advanced Tire Products for three years. As the
development engineer, he analyzed tire failures and developed special methods for
measuring and analyzing tire performance.
In 1969, he was assigned to the Uniroyal proving grounds in Laredo, Texas,
where he was the sole engineer on site. As the resident engineer, he provided the
engineering support for a test center that ran ten million miles annually, operated
100 test vehicles, and employed 200 people. He examined failed and worn tires
that were run on various durability, wear, and hazard tests. In 1972, he became a
project manager working with tire and vehicle centers (dealers) on a program to
evaluate and improve the ride and handling quality of vehicles. As the project
manager, he analyzed failed tires and warranty returns to determine why the tires
had failed. In 1976, he was transferred to Automotive Account Engineer, where he
coordinated tire engineering criteria of Uniroyal’s largest customer, General
There, he inspected failed tires that were returned from vehicle
manufacturer’s qualification tests, and he reported his analysis based on
inspections as to why the tires failed to meet industry standards.
In 1978, he became manager of industry standards. He coordinated with
other tire companies, vehicle manufacturers, testing companies, and government
agencies at key industry committees to set technical standards for tires. During
that time he also analyzed and reported on failed tires to respond to liability claims
on behalf of Uniroyal. In 1984, he became manager of testing services. This
department was in charge of all tire testing, except for proving grounds. As a part
of that team, Mr. Woehrle conducted various tests, including durability tests.
During durability testing, he would test tires to the point that they either wore out
or failed. Following the durability tests, he would evaluate and analyze the tires to
draw a conclusion as to why the tires failed.
In 1987, he was promoted to director of product evaluation, the department
responsible for all aspects of tire testing, including the proving grounds.
Uniroyal, he tested a variety of tires, including experimental tires (which reflected
new concepts), developmental tires (tires in the process of becoming production
tires), and production tires (tires that were being made and sold at that time). Some
of the tests were designed to either wear out or fail the tire. Other tests were not
designed to either wear out or fail the tire, but the tire would occasionally fail
during the testing.
In addition to his education and training, Mr. Woehrle has served as the
chairman, president, and member of numerous professional affiliations. He is the
chairman of the Highway Tire Committee of the Society of Automotive Engineers.
He is a past president of the Tire and Rim Association, a past chairman of the Tire
Engineering Policy Committee of the Rubber Manufacturers Association, and a
past chairman of Working Groups in the International Standards Organization. He
has given numerous technical reports, presentations, and written several published
articles on various tire issues, including failure analysis.
Based on these
qualifications, the court determines that Mr. Woehrle has the relevant knowledge,
skill, experience, and training to testify as an expert.
Defendant also contends that Mr. Woehrle’s methodology is unreliable and
The trial judge’s gatekeeping inquiry, when analyzing Daubert
challenges, “avoids usurping the role of the trier of fact, because the court’s ‘focus
. . . must be solely on principles and methodology, not on the conclusions that they
generate.’” Rudd v. Gen. Motors Corp., 127 F. Supp. 2d 1330, 1335 (M.D. Ala.
2001) (quoting Daubert, 509 U.S. at 595). The court must screen expert testimony
to ensure that it stems from not just a reliable methodology, but also a sufficient
factual basis and reliable application of the methodology to the facts. Id. at 1337.
Here, in addition to conducting a detailed visual, tactile, and diagnostic
examination of the subject tire prior to rendering his opinions, Mr. Woehrle also
conducted a differential diagnosis whereby he eliminated other potential causes of
failure based on the absence or presence of other certain signs on the subject tire.
Such a process of elimination is an appropriate and accepted methodology. See
Esposito v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., No. 06–153–S, 2010 WL 5173338, at *2
(Rhode Island Dec. 14, 2010).
In the engineering field, the elimination
methodology has been endorsed by several other courts explicitly and by the
Supreme Court implicitly. See Kumho Tire, 526 U.S. at 156 (suggesting that a
“visual examination and process of elimination” analysis would be an appropriate
methodology for a tire engineer); see also Abrams v. Ciba Specialty Chems. Corp.,
No. 08–0068–WS–B, 2010 WL 779276, at *6 (S.D. Ala. Mar. 2, 2010) (admitting
testimony of chemical engineer who opined on the cause of contamination in the
plaintiffs’ home based on “a process of elimination that rejected or minimized all
other alternative sources”).
Ultimately, Mr. Woehrle’s vast experience with tire manufacture and failure
analysis as well as the methodology he employed to reach his opinions, satisfies
Daubert. Thus, his testimony is admissible at trial. Accordingly, Defendant’s
motion in limine to exclude Mr. Woehrle’s testimony relating to the alleged
manufacturing defects in the subject tire is due to be denied.
Defendant’s Summary Judgment Motion
Defendant based its summary judgment motion on the inadmissibility of Mr.
Woehrle’s expert testimony. Based on the foregoing Daubert analysis, there is a
genuine dispute of material fact precluding summary judgment. See Fed. R. Evid.
56(a). Accordingly, the motion is due to be denied.
It is ORDERED that: (1) Defendant’s Daubert motion/motion in limine is
GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART as set out in this opinion and order;
and (2) Defendant’s motion for summary judgment is DENIED.
DONE this 21st day of November, 2013.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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