Gonzalez v. Sea Fox Boat Co Inc
MEMORANDUM ORDER granting in part and denying in part 306 Motion in Limine. IT IS ORDERED that the Motion in Limine [doc. 306] be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Henderson is barred from offering opinions on the cause of the accident, and limited as described above in his testimony concerning psychological and pulmonary diagnoses, but may otherwise testify as to all the material contained in his reports. Signed by Judge James D Cain, Jr on 5/10/2022. (crt,Crick, S)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
LAKE CHARLES DIVISION
CASE NO. 2:19-CV-00130 LEAD
JUDGE JAMES D. CAIN, JR.
SEA FOX BOAT CO INC
MAGISTRATE JUDGE KAY
Before the court is a Motion in Limine [doc. 306] filed by defendants and seeking
to limit the testimony of plaintiff expert witness Darrell Henderson under the standards set
forth in Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.,
509 U.S. 579 (1993). Plaintiffs oppose the motion. Doc. 350.
This suit arises from a maritime accident that occurred on or about July 29, 2018,
on a 2014 Sea Fox Commander vessel, while plaintiffs Jeremy Eades, Hugo Gonzales, and
Galloway Outlaw-Knight were changing out the vessel’s batteries. All three were seriously
injured in the explosion and resulting fire, and Eades has since died of mixed drug
intoxication. Plaintiffs have attributed the explosion to a leaking fuel water separator filter,
causing the presence of gasoline vapors on the vessel, and filed suits against Yamaha Motor
Corporation USA (“Yamaha”), as designer of the filter, and Sea Fox Boat Company, Inc.
(“Sea Fox”), as designer/manufacturer of the vessel. Doc. 1. The matter is now set for jury
trial before the undersigned on May 16, 2022.
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Plaintiffs have given notice of their intention to introduce testimony from Darrell
Henderson, a plastic surgeon who treated the burn wounds of Gonzales, Outlaw-Knight,
and Eades. By separate motion defendants have objected to the designation of Henderson
as a treating physician, and the court has rejected that challenge. In this motion defendants
seek an order prohibiting Dr. Henderson from offering expert testimony regarding
causation, psychological diagnoses, speculative future complications, and opinions on
vocational rehabilitation and economic losses. Doc. 306. Plaintiffs oppose the motion.
A. Governing Law
LAW & APPLICATION
The trial court serves as gatekeeper in determining the admissibility of expert
testimony, by making an initial determination of whether the expert’s opinion is relevant
and reliable. See Daubert, 509 U.S. at 589. This gatekeeping function extends to all expert
testimony, whether scientific or not. Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137,
147 (1999). Accordingly, Federal Rule of Evidence 702 provides that the court must
consider the following three requirements on challenges to experts: 1) qualifications of the
expert witness; 2) relevance of the proposed testimony; and 3) reliability of the principles
and methodology on which the testimony is based. 1 The proponent of the expert testimony
The Daubert Court identified several additional factors for assessing whether the expert’s methodology is valid and
reliable, including whether the expert’s theory had been tested and subjected to peer review, the known or potential
error rate for the expert’s theory or technique, the existence and maintenance of standards and controls, and the degree
to which the technique or theory has been generally accepted in the scientific community. Moore v. Ashland Chemical,
Inc., 151 F.3d 269, 275 (5th Cir. 1998). However, the same standards cannot be applied to all possible fields of
expertise. Accordingly, the Daubert analysis is necessarily flexible and fact-specific. Kumho, 526 U.S. at 150.
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bears the burden of proving its admissibility, by a preponderance of the evidence. Mathis
v. Exxon Corp., 302 F.3d 448, 459–60 (5th Cir. 2002).
The trial court has broad latitude in determining the admissibility of expert
testimony. Guy v. Crown Equip. Corp., 394 F.3d 320, 325 (5th Cir. 2004). Rejection of
expert testimony is the exception rather than the rule, and the court’s role as gatekeeper
“does not replace the traditional adversary system and the place of the jury within the
system.” Johnson v. Samsung Electronics Am., Inc., 277 F.R.D. 161, 165 (E.D. La. 2011);
Scordill v. Louisville Ladder Grp., LLC, 2003 WL 22427981, at *3 (E.D. La. Oct. 24,
2003). Instead, “[v]igorous cross-examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and
careful instruction on the burden of proof are the traditional and appropriate means of
attacking shaky but admissible evidence.” Scordill, 2003 WL 22427981 at *3 (quoting
Daubert, 509 U.S. at 596).
Dr. Henderson is a board-certified plastic surgeon specializing in reconstructive
plastic surgery, with years of experience treating burn patients. See doc. 306, att. 5, pp. 1–
3. He issued reports for all three plaintiffs in 2018, opining on their diagnoses and, in the
case of Gonzales and Outlaw-Knight, treatment needs. Doc. 306, atts. 4–6. He also issued
a supplemental report on Outlaw-Knight in 2022. Doc. 306, att. 8. In the original reports
he described the surface area of the burns on each plaintiff and their impact on function.
He also described plaintiffs’ psychological symptoms and opined that all three should be
referred for psychology consults, physical therapy, pulmonology consults, and ongoing
monitoring of their wounds with possible laser surgery if compression garments failed to
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keep the scars from turning hypertrophic or into keloids. 2 Henderson also stressed the risk
of heat exposure, skin instability, and permanent impairment with plaintiffs’ conditions,
and stated on the issue of causation that leaking gas from somewhere in the boat could have
created a “perfect storm” where a spark caused by changing the battery might have resulted
in an explosion. In his supplemental report on Outlaw-Knight, Henderson provided a threepage update on the plaintiff’s wound situation and then stated that his recommendations
from the 2018 report remained unchanged. Doc. 306, att. 8.
The court agrees that any testimony on the cause of the accident is beyond
Henderson’s expertise. Henderson’s other opinions, however, appear sufficiently tied to
his established experience with burns and reconstructive wound care to satisfy Daubert’s
standards. He testified as to the possible trauma of wound-inflicting events, symptoms
described by each patient and need for further psychological treatment; this is within the
scope of his expertise as a specialist who deals with traumas and may make referrals to
other specialists. Although he hypothesized about certain diagnoses, such a traumatic brain
injury, he did not indicate that he had performed the testing appropriate to give such a result
or to offer a treatment plan. Likewise, as a physician who has reviewed the details of the
accident he may opine on the possible need for a pulmonary consult. Accordingly,
Henderson may testify as to the need for psychiatric/psychological and pulmonary consults
as well as counselling needs for burn patients in general, but he may not offer a diagnosis
or testify as to the likelihood of a treatment plan for any plaintiff.
Henderson stated that, in his experience, the compression garments were effective 40 to 50% of the time while the
laser treatment was effective 85 to 90% of the time. Doc. 306, att. 4, pp. 10–11.
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Finally, Henderson described the potential complications of the wounds and the
obstacles they posed for returning to plaintiffs’ occupations, which involved heat exposure
and physical strain. These are areas within the scope of his expertise, and he may offer
these opinions as they relate to the plaintiffs’ economic loss claim. Defendants may in turn
challenge Henderson’s view on the likelihood of complications and the extent to which his
experience adequately supports these opinions through cross-examination and the
presentation of their own experts’ testimony.
For the reasons stated above, IT IS ORDERED that the Motion in Limine [doc.
306] be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Henderson is barred from
offering opinions on the cause of the accident, and limited as described above in his
testimony concerning psychological and pulmonary diagnoses, but may otherwise testify
as to all the material contained in his reports.
THUS DONE AND SIGNED in Chambers this 10th day of May, 2022.
JAMES D. CAIN, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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