O'Bryant v. Gray Insurance Company, et al
ORDER and REASONS granting 98 Motion to Exclude/Limit Plaintiff's Liability Expert, Leslie Eschete, as stated within document. Signed by Chief Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt on 10/18/2017. (cbs)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
TIMOTHY G. O’BRYANT
GRAY INSURANCE COMPANY, ET AL
SECTION “N” (1)
ORDER AND REASONS
Before the Court is Defendants’ Motion in Limine to Exclude/Limit Plaintiff’s Liability
Expert, Leslie Eschete (Rec. Doc. 98). This motion is opposed by Plaintiff (Rec. Doc. 112).
Defendants, The Gray Insurance Company, Longnecker Properties, Inc., ENI US Operating
Company, Inc. and SEACOR Marine LLC, maintain that Mr. Eschete lacks the requisite expertise to
offer the opinions set forth in his report, and further, that such opinions are unfounded and
inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and Daubert. 1 For the reasons stated herein, the
motion is GRANTED.
LAW AND ANALYSIS
Under Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence,
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.
Thus, under Rule 702 and Daubert, a court "must ensure the expert uses reliable methods to
reach his opinions[,] and those opinions must be relevant to the facts of the case." Guy v. Crown
Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 238 (1999).
Equip. Corp., 394 F.3d 320, 325 (5th Cir. 2004). Reliability and validity must be demonstrated by
evidence that the knowledge is more than speculation. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 590. An evaluation or
analysis of reliability must be flexible, as “[t]he factors identified in Daubert may or may not be
pertinent in assessing reliability, depending on the nature of the issue, the expert's particular expertise,
and the subject of his testimony.” Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 150, 119 S. Ct. 1167,
1175, 143 L. Ed. 2d 238 (1999).
With respect to relevancy of expert testimony,
[T]he proposed testimony must be relevant “not simply in the way all testimony must
be relevant [pursuant to Rule 402], but also in the sense that the expert's proposed
opinion would assist the trier of fact to understand or determine a fact in issue.”
Bocanegra v. Vicmar Servs. Inc., 320 F.3d 581, 584 (5th Cir.2003). There is no more
certain test for determining when experts may be used than the common sense inquiry
whether the untrained layman would be qualified to determine intelligently and to the
best degree the particular issue without enlightenment from those having a specialized
understanding of the subject involved in the dispute.” Vogler v. Blackmore, 352 F.3d
150, 156 n. 5 (5th Cir.2003) (quoting Fed. R. Evid. 702 advisory committee's note).
Kennedy v. Magnolia Marine Transp. Co., 189 F. Supp. 3d 610, 615 (E.D. La. 2016). Thus, if a jury
“could adeptly assess [a] situation using only their common experience and knowledge,” it is within
the discretion of the trial judge to exclude the expert testimony. Peters v. Five Star Marine Serv., 898
F.2d 448, 450 (5th Cir. 1990).
Assuming without deciding that Mr. Eschete is, in fact, an expert in maritime industry areas,
including maritime safety and the duties of a captain of a vessel similar to the one involved in this
case, the Court turns to the specific opinions offered by Mr. Eschete regarding the November 14,
2015 incident on board the M/V CLAY ELLA, in which plaintiff Timothy G. O’Bryant claims to have
injured himself as a result of slipping and falling in the shower on board the vessel. Mr. Eschete
offers five opinions associated with this incident:
1. This incident was completely avoidable. Had the LPI dispatcher
followed instructions and not ordered the M/V CLAY ELLA to sea;
no injury(s) to Mr. O’Bryant would have occurred.
2. The captain/operator of the M/V CLAY ELLA should have informed,
notified, alerted the riggers/personnel on the vessel of the course
change during the prevailing sea conditions; Mr. O’Bryant would not
have been injured.
3. Handrails and/or grab-bars should have been provided in the larger
than normal shower stall of the M/V CLAY ELLA.
4. Sufficient non-skid and/or flooring should have been provided in the
shower stall(s) on the M/V CLAY ELLA.
5. No evidence/documentation has been produced ensuring an Offshore
Worker Orientation was given prior to the M/V CLAY ELLA
departing for sea.
See Eschete Report, p. 19; see also Rec. Doc. 98-2, p. 11.
Mr. Eschete’s opinions are problematic for several reasons. Even before considering Mr.
Eschete’s opinions, the Court notes that they are based upon his examination of thirteen photographs
of a shower stall, provided by plaintiff’s counsel, represented to be the shower stall in which O’Bryant
was injured on November 14, 2015. Mr. Eschete admitted that he had no knowledge as to who took
the photographs and when the photographs were taken; thus there is no evidence, and no reason to
believe, that the photographs accurately represent the condition of the shower stall on November 14,
2015. And though he has a great deal of experience in the maritime industry, and cites to certain
OSHA provisions that might be pertinent for consideration, he does not apply those provisions to
formulate opinions which cannot be discerned by a lay person juror.
Even so, Eschete’s individual opinions are not helpful. For instance, in his first opinion, Mr.
Eschete claims that “this incident was completely avoidable”, because the M/V CLAY ELLA should
not have been put to sea. Of course, this opinion is not helpful because any number of hypothetical
“but for” events or avoidances could be cited: (1) had Mr. O’Bryant not been working that day, he
would not have been injured; (2) had Mr. O’Bryant not taken a shower until the vessel docked, he
would not have been injured; (3) had Mr. O’Bryant chosen to be employed in a different field
altogether, he would not have been injured; or (4) had the weather that day been different, he would
not have been injured. Whether ill-advised or not, the vessel put to sea in the existing conditions, and
everyone aboard who did not choose to take a shower in those conditions was uninjured. Thus, to
say that an incident “was completely avoidable”, begs the question of whether a defendant or group
of defendants have liability for any such injuries resulting. In other words, every incident is
“avoidable”, but not every incident is borne of negligence or results in the attachment of liability to
another party. There is no evidence, and no supported opinion, that the vessel captain or anyone else
committed acts or omissions that fell below the expected care to be exercised.
Secondly, Eschete claims that the captain of the vessel “should have informed, notified,
alerted the riggers/personnel on the vessel of the course change during the prevailing sea conditions”,
in which case he contends the plaintiff would not have been injured. This opinion, however, is not
borne out by the evidence, as plaintiff fails to cite any testimony, and provides no affidavit
whatsoever, that he would have acted upon such information and declined to take a shower at the time
he did. The opinion does not relate the purported course change to the alleged slip and fall in the
shower. In fact, the plaintiff’s testimony is quite to the opposite: plaintiff asserted that he takes
showers in the morning and was determined to take one on the morning of November 14, 2015,
without regard to the prevailing sea conditions, which were readily apparent to him and everyone else
on the vessel. In fact, it is undisputed that Mr. O’Bryant was very familiar with the M/V CLAY
ELLA, had worked on it for approximately four years during which time he used the same shower
frequently, and readily was aware of its size and provisions. He also was a veteran crew member
who was well-capable of assessing obvious sea and weather conditions for his own safety when
deciding to take a shower on board while underway. Furthermore, the opinion fails to establish that
the course change was improper or negligent, nor does it explain what standard procedures or
operations should have been conducted by the crew had such notification been given. Thus, there is
no foundation for employment of an expert’s applied knowledge to formulate an opinion outside the
realm of a lay person juror.
As to his third opinion, Eschete claims that not only was the shower stall “larger than normal”,
it had no “handrails and/or grab-bars.” Although Mr. Eschete compared this vessel’s shower size and
handrail/grab-bar provision with that of many other vessels upon which he served, he does not
indicate that the M/V CLAY ELLA’s shower was inadequate, ill-equipped, or particularly unsafe
based upon any requirements or guidelines, including OSHA provisions. Simply stating that other
vessels had different – and better, in his opinion – provisions is not an insightful opinion imparting
particularized knowledge from an expert to a lay person juror. Of course, the presence of handrails
and/or grab-bars is readily apparent, even to a lay person, and especially to an experienced crew
member like Plaintiff.
Eschete also finds that the non-skid and/or flooring was not “sufficient.” He again cites no
requirements or guidelines defining what would be “sufficient”, and concedes that in fact there was
some non-skid flooring in the shower. Other than viewing photographs, Eschete does not offer an
opinion as to whether this insufficiency was based upon the quality (type or thickness) of the nonskid provided, the age of the non-skid, or whether more non-skid should have been in the shower
area. Eschete simply describes the non-skid and/or flooring as not being “sufficient”, in his opinion,
based upon his viewing of showers on vessels over the course of his career.
Lastly, Eschete claims that “no evidence/documentation has been produced ensuring an
Offshore Worker Orientation was given prior to the M/V CLAY ELLA departing for sea.” Assuming
Eschete is factually correct, his opinion remains unhelpful: he fails to state what such orientation
would include. 2 Eschete does not claim that such an orientation would include instructions on when
After stating that an orientation should be given to riggers each time there were changes in
personnel or the vessel got underway on a voyage, Mr. Eschete simply makes a statement that, “JSAs
(a.k.a. Safety Meetings) should have included reminders for all personnel on the M/V CLAY ELLA
to take a shower and/or how to take a shower in rough seas. There is no evidence to suggest that the
plaintiff, had such specific instructions been given at an orientation, would have heeded these
directives as to when he could take a shower. There is nothing in Eschete’s report indicating that any
Offshore Worker Orientation would include safety considerations to be taken into account when
showering onboard a vessel underway.
Accordingly, Defendants’ Motion in Limine to Exclude/Limit Plaintiff’s Liability Expert,
Leslie Eschete (Rec. Doc. 98) is hereby GRANTED. 3
New Orleans, Louisiana, this 18th day of October 2017.
KURT D. ENGELHARDT
United States District Judge
that the showers did/did not have handrails and/or grab-bars installed or raised flooring.” However,
Mr. Eschete does not provide any information as to what an orientation customarily includes or
otherwise elaborate on the substance of such orientation.
Rather, Mr. Eschete cites to a regulation relating to “Safety Orientation for Offshore
Workers,” specifically regarding public announcements on “any conditions or circumstances that
constitute a risk to safety” before a vessel gets underway on a voyage. However, Mr. Eschete then
goes on to discuss the M/V CLAY ELLA’s changing course with no warning in rough seas as “the
obvious safety risk” and how Captain Dianna Thompson arguably “should have known that she
should advise, warn, alert, personnel aboard the vessel prior to a course change in foul weather.”
The Court notes the ruling in Trosclair v. Abdon Callais Offshore, LLC, Civil Action No. 083824, 2010 WL 797857, at *1 (E.D.La. Mar. 2, 2010), which addresses an expert report by Mr.
Eschete. In allowing for a supplemental report by Mr. Eschete to be admitted, the Court stated,
With regard to the supplemental report, the Court agrees with much of the ACO’s
substantive criticisms that Eschete’s opinions stretch if not breach the proper scope of
expert testimony. However, the Court is also mindful that it is the fact finder in this
matter. The Court cautions the plaintiff that his expert testimony should stay within
the bounds of Fed.R.Evid. 702 or risk having his testimony disregarded entirely.
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