Salter v. Otis Elevator Company et al
ORDER granting 40 Motion to Compel. Signed by Magistrate Judge G. R. Smith on 10/05/17. (jlm)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
DIANNA SALTER, as Surviving
Spouse of Ricky P. Salter, Sr.,
Deceased, and in Her Capacity as the
Temporary Administrator of the
Estate of Ricky P. Salter, Sr.,
OTIS ELEVATOR CO., JOHN DOES )
On August 31, 2014, decedent Ricky Salter was tragically killed
when the elevator he was working on (Lowerator No. 4) began
ascending and trapped him between the platform and shaft housing.
His legs and right arm were amputated, and he died prior to the arrival
Plaintiff Dianna Salter contends defendant Otis
Elevator Company either negligently maintained Lowerator No. 4 or
failed to warn others of a dangerous condition in Lowerator No. 4, thus
causing her late husband’s death. Otis Elevator argues that Salter was
negligent himself, as he walked out onto the platform of Lowerator No.
4 without locking out or de-energizing the equipment. Docs. 40 & 44.
Plaintiff seeks to compel the production of the Otis Employee
responsibilities of the Mechanic or Journeyman to identify and
eliminate any unsafe conditions that are under the control of the
Company, and notify others to correct such unsafe conditions.” Doc. 401, Exh. 7 No. 13 (Plaintiff’s First Requests for Production of
Defendant opposes, contending the request is overly
broad, vague, and ambiguous, seeks propriety/confidential information,
and is irrelevant to the case because it doesn’t involve either “Otis
employee safety” or “an unsafe condition under the control of Otis.” Id.
(Defendant’s Amended Response).
Clearly, the request for a single, specific document is not “overly
broad, vague, or ambiguous.” Defendant does not meaningfully dispute
that it knows precisely the document plaintiff seeks. See doc. 44. Nor
does it dispute that there is already a comprehensive Protective Order
in place to shield any proprietary information contained in the
Handbook. See id.; see also doc. 18 (Protective Order).
Rather, Otis hangs its hat on the irrelevance of the Handbook to
Ricky’s death, since he was not an Otis employee and no Otis employee
was present during the accident. Doc. 44 at 7. But plaintiff’s theory is
that Otis was negligent in its repairs to the elevator and that that
negligence led to her husband’s death. She contends that, even if Otis
did not regularly maintain the elevator, at some point six months prior
to the accident it did service Lowerator No. 4, failed to catch a flaw
within the I-3 pressure relief valve on Lowerator No. 4, or did catch it
and failed to inform the normal maintenance crew that the condition
existed, and that one of these failures led to Ricky’s death. Doc. 40; see
also doc. 13 (Amended Complaint).
She has been advised that the
Handbook has a provision requiring employees out on a service call to
report any dangerous condition they come across to the responsible
party (here, International Paper, the owner and regular maintainer of
Lowerator No. 4). See doc. 26 (plaintiff’s expert witness report, opining
that Otis negligently and recklessly failed to adjust the I-3 pressure
relief valve, which would have prevented the accident, and failed to
warn International Paper of the dangers associated with it); doc. 40,
Exh. 6 at 11 (excerpts from an allegedly similar manual, which directs
elevator mechanics to “notify” a responsible party, such as the building
owner, that “unsafe conditions exist” “verbally and/or in writing.”).
Just because defendant disagrees with her theory -- that Otis was
either negligent in its maintenance or noticed the problem but failed to
warn Lowerator No. 4’s owner per its own policy -- doesn’t make a copy
of the Handbook (allegedly) setting forth that policy irrelevant. Nor
does the fact the Handbook is specifically geared to Otis employees’
safety practices make it irrelevant to plaintiff’s theory that the accident
was caused by Otis employees’ negligent safety practices. See doc. 44 at
9 (arguing that plaintiff’s relevance argument is “simply based on
speculation and suspicion in an attempt to show that the Handbook
creates a duty to Mr. Salter with regard to the incident, even in the face
of undisputed testimony that the Handbook pertains only to Otis
employee workplace safety”). Indeed, defendant has adduced a good
deal of evidence that it was not contracted to repair or monitor the I-3
pressure relief valve or perform work on the Lowerator gate, and thus
could not be held liable for Ricky’s death. See doc. 44, Exh. C. That will
be valuable when Otis presents its defense to the jury; it does not
render the Handbook itself irrelevant.
Relevant evidence is discoverable, and defendant has not
demonstrated the Handbook is irrelevant to plaintiff’s negligence theory
or that production would be unduly burdensome. See Fed. R. Civ. P.
26(b)(1). 1 Defendant’s objections to plaintiff’s motion are without merit,
and Plaintiff’s motion to compel the production of the Otis Employee
Safety Handbook (doc. 40) is GRANTED.
SO ORDERED, this 5th
day of October, 2017.
“Evidence is relevant if it has any tendency to make the existence of any fact or
consequence more or less probable than it would be without the evidence.” Daniel
Def. v. Remington Arms Co., LLC, 2015 WL 6142883 at * 2 (S.D. Ga. Oct. 19, 2015)
(quotes and cites omitted). Further, “[t]he standard for what constitute relevant
evidence is a low one.” United States v. Tinoco, 304 F.3d 1088, 1120 (11th Cir. 2002);
McCleod v. Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp., 2014 WL 1616414 at * 3 (S.D. Ga. Apr. 22,
2014) (“Rule 26, quite simply sets forth a very low threshold for relevancy, and thus,
the court is inclined to err in favor of discovery rather than against it.”).
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