Ribeiro et al v. Baby Trend, Inc.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER - IT IS ORDERED that: The defendants' Daubert motions in limine (Filing Nos. 649 , 702 , and 711 ) are denied. The plaintiffs' motions to exclude (Filing Nos. 720 and 722 ) are denied. Ordered by Senior Judge Joseph F. Bataillon. (TCL)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEBRASKA
FRANCO RIBEIRO, as individuals and as
next friends and biological parents of
Lucas Ribeiro, an infant; and DEANNA
RIBEIRO, as individuals and as next
friends and biological parents of Lucas
Ribeiro, an infant;
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
BABY TREND, INC., a corporation; MARK
SEDLACK, MILLENIUM DEVELOPMENT
CORP., INDIANA MILLS &
MANUFACTURING INC., LERADO
GROUP CO., LTD., LERADO GROUP
(HOLDING) COMPANY, LTD., LERADO
(ZHONG SHAN) INDUSTRIAL CO., LTD.,
LERADO CHINA LIMITED, LERADO H.K.
LIMITED, MAXI MILIAAN B.V., and
DOREL INDUSTRIES, INC.,
This matter is before the court on defendants’ motions in limine to exclude the
testimony of the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, Filing No. 649 (regarding Dr. Arthur
Hoffman, Dr. Terri Stentz, and Dr. Kelli Herstein), Filing No. 702 (regarding Dr. Arthur
Hoffman), Filing No. 711 (regarding Ted Sokol) and on the plaintiffs’ motions to exclude
the testimony of the defendants' experts, Filing No. 720 (regarding Dr. William Van
Arsdell), Filing No. 722 (regarding James Chinni, P.E.). The parties seek exclusion of
the testimony under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., 509 U.S. 579, 589 (1993).
This is a products liability action involving injuries sustained as a result of an
allegedly defective infant car seat. The court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332.
The plaintiffs allege the car seat’s restraint system strangled and asphyxiated
plaintiff Lucas Ribeiro causing him to suffer catastrophic permanent brain damage.
Defendant IMMI supplied a component part for the Car Seat: the A-Lok strap adjuster.
The plaintiffs allege that defendants IMMI and Lerado were negligent in the design,
manufacture and testing of the subject car seat or its component parts.
The experts’ reports have been disclosed and the experts’ depositions have been
Federal Rule of Evidence 702 governs the admissibility of expert testimony and
requires that: A(1) the evidence must be based on scientific, technical or other
specialized knowledge that is useful to the finder of fact in deciding the ultimate issue of
fact; (2) the witness must have sufficient expertise to assist the trier of fact; and (3) the
evidence must be reliable or trustworthy.@ Kudabeck v. Kroger Co., 338 F.3d 856, 859
(8th Cir. 2003). Expert testimony assists the trier of fact when it provides information
beyond the common knowledge of the trier of fact. Id. at 860. An expert’s testimony
should only be excluded where it is “so fundamentally unsupported that it can offer no
assistance to the jury.” Synergetics, Inc. v. Hurst, 477 F.3d 949, 956 (8th Cir. 2007)
(internal quotation marks omitted).
The proponent of expert testimony bears the burden of providing admissibility
beyond a preponderance of the evidence. Lauzon v. Senco Prods., 270 F.3d 681, 686
(8th Cir. 2001). “The rule clearly ‘is one of admissibility rather than exclusion.’” Id.
(quoting Arcoren v. United States, 929 F.2d 1235, 1239 (8th Cir.1991)).
When faced with a proffer of expert testimony, trial judges are charged with the
Agatekeeping@ responsibility of ensuring that all expert evidence admitted is both
relevant and reliable.
Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 147 (1999);
Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., 509 U.S. 579, 589 (1993); United States v. Merrell,
842 F.3d 577, 582 (8th Cir. 2016).
A trial court must be given wide latitude in
determining whether an expert=s testimony is reliable. See Kumho Tire, 526 U.S. at
152. This analysis requires that the court make a Apreliminary assessment of whether
the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is scientifically valid and of
whether that reasoning or methodology . . . can be [properly] applied to the facts in
issue.@ Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592-93.
Defendants' Daubert Motions
Dr. Arthur W. Hoffman, Filing Nos. 649 and 702
Dr. Hoffman is the plaintiffs' design/engineering expert. He is expected to testify
with respect to design defects, manufacturing defects, inadequate warnings, and
The defendants challenge Dr. Hoffman’s testimony,
arguing his overall testing and methodology cannot be relied upon. They argue his
approach is arbitrary, non-scientific, and is not based on “any scientific methodology or
any peer-reviewed approach analyzing CRS stability.” They also challenge his opinions
on several specific alleged defects of the car seat. Further they assert he should be
barred from testifying as to adequacy of warnings, biomechanics, or defective materials
because he admits he is not a warnings expert, a biomechanical expert or a materials
The record shows Dr. Hoffmann has been a licensed professional engineer for
almost 50 years and has been working with car seats and child safety since early in his
professional career. Dr. Hoffmann worked for GM for more than 20 years and was
involved in the design of the very first child safety seat in 1967. Dr. Hoffmann also
designed the first rear-facing car seat, which is similar to the car seat at issue in this
case. He is the author of two books on automotive seat design and car seat design. He
has been retained to consult on matters for numerous car seat manufacturers.
He reviewed the physical evidence of the incident at issue, including the car seat
and photographs taken at the time of the incident. He documented the car seat as it
was received from the Kearney Police Department, and compared its condition to the
condition of the Graco car seat that was holding Lucas Ribeiro’s twin brother, Alex, at
the time of Lucas’s incident. He also reviewed case materials and the reports of other
experts. He reviewed relevant scientific literature in forming his opinions, including
reviewing data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. His opinion was based
on that data and his experience in designing car seats. He rendered his opinion to a
reasonable degree of engineering certainty.
The court finds Dr. Hoffmann is qualified to render the expert opinions expressed
in his report and at his deposition. His conclusions are based on sound engineering
Any alleged criticisms of Dr. Hoffman’s methodology or the testing and
experimentation he performed can be pursued in cross examination. The fact that the
defendants’ expert witness disagrees with Dr. Hoffman’s conclusions is not a reason to
exclude the testimony. Dr. Hoffman has ample support for the opinions he expressed.
The record shows Dr. Hoffmann has reviewed sufficient facts and data during his review
of this case, his testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and he has
reliably applied those principles and methods to the facts of the case. Accordingly, the
court finds the defendants' Daubert motion should be denied.
Terry Stentz, Ph. D., and Kelli Herstein, Ph. D., Filing No. 649.
Drs. Stentz and Herstein were asked to provide opinions regarding the subject
infant carrier related to the principles of ergonomics, safety engineering, and human
They are expected to testify that the car seat at issue was defective and
unreasonably dangerous from a safety engineering perspective.
challenges their testimony, contending that Dr. Stentz and Dr. Herstein are not qualified
to opine regarding the design of the A-Lok because they are ergonomists, not "experts
in the designs of car seats." Filing No. 650, at 5.
Dr. Stentz is a Board Certified Professional Ergonomist, Board Certified
Professional Constructor, an industrial engineer, and an occupational health scientist
with 25 years of experience in occupational safety and health.
Dr. Stentz has
conducted safety and ergonomics research of private industry, OSHA, the CDC, the
National Institute of
Occupational Safety and
Administration, the National Electrical Contractors Association, the Mechanical
Contractors Association, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the Harvard School of
Public Health, and various other entities and funding sources.
Dr. Stentz has seven academic degrees, including a Ph.D. in Psychological
Studies and Human Performance (Human Factors) from the University of NebraskaLincoln, a Masters of Public Health in Occupational and Environmental Health from
Harvard University, a Master of Science in Industrial and Management Systems
Engineering from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a Master of Arts (Environmental
Science) from Dartmouth College, and a Master of Arts in English (Rhetoric and
Technical Composition) from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
He has also
completed post-graduate academic course work and training, including injury
epidemiology coursework in 2003 at the University of Michigan.
Dr. Stentz was aeronautical engineer and intelligence officer in the United States
Navy for approximately twenty-seven years before retiring as a Navy Captain in 1997.
He has worked in private industry for defense and consumer products companies as a
quality and manufacturing engineer, test engineer, test engineering manager, and as a
manufacturing engineering executive in product development and materials testing.
Dr. Kelli Herstein has a Ph.D. in Engineering from the University of NebraskaLincoln, has master and bachelor degrees in industrial engineering. She is currently
finishing her Master in Public Health in environmental, agricultural, and occupational
health. Dr. Herstein has over 12 years of experience in industry, computer technology
services, customer support supervision, transportation and logistics, academic teaching,
and research, and has been specifically analyzing car seats and car seat regulations for
approximately six years.
The record shows Drs. Stentz and Herstein reviewed deposition transcripts,
deposition exhibits, patents, medical records, publicly available injury data, relevant
standards, and other documents relating to this litigation.
They also evaluated the
subject car seat and conducted various analysis and testing on exemplar car seats.
They relied on the type of information routinely relied upon by experts in these fields of
The court finds Drs. Stentz and Herstein’s opinions on design are not outside
their area of expertise. The opinions on design defects and adequacy of warnings, are
within the purview of safety engineering and human factors. These experts are qualified
to express their opinions in that context. The defendant's criticisms go to the weight
rather than the admissibility of the evidence and are properly the subject of crossexamination.
Ted Sokol, P.E., Filing No. 711
Dr. Sokol was disclosed by the plaintiffs as a rebuttal expert. The defendants
contend that the plaintiffs are attempting to offer new, affirmative opinions via Dr.
Sokol’s rebuttal trestimony. They argue his testimony does not respond to or refute the
defendants’ expert reports. Though captioned as a Daubert motion, the defendants do
not challenge the expert’s qualifications or methodology. The defendants’ argument is
also raised in motions to strike Sokol’s disclosure and testimony that the court
addresses in other orders.
First, the defendants’ argument that Sokol cannot be deposed before the
deposition deadline appears moot. His deposition was noticed for March 31, 2017.
Next, the court finds that IMMI’s claims that the rebuttal expert disclosures are untimely
or otherwise improper is unfounded.
The plaintiffs designated the rebuttal expert
opinion in response to the expert opinions that were disclosed by the defendants. The
fact that Chinni did not specifically address the experts’ opinions is of no
consequence—Chinni’s disclosure generally refutes the positions of the opposing
The plaintiffs’ expert reports were disclosed prior to the deadline for
supplementing expert opinions in the case, and the defendants have deposed all of the
plaintiffs’ experts. The defendants have not demonstrated any prejudice as the result of
any purported untimely disclosure. Accordingly, the court finds the motion should be
Plaintiffs' Daubert Motions
Dr. William Van Arsdell, Filing No. 720
The plaintiffs challenge Dr. Van Arsdell’s methodology of testing, contending it is
not scientific or reliable. They further argue that Dr. Van Arsdell should be barred from
specifically testifying to the surrogate study, the curvature of the subject CRS’s base,
his opinion that the crotch buckle was likely unfastened at the time of the incident, and
any human factors issues.
Dr. Van Arsdell has three degrees in mechanical engineering—a B.S. degree in
mechanical engineering from the University of Arizona, a Masters degree in mechanical
engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a Ph. D. in
mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He is a
registered professional engineer (mechanical) and is a certified National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration (NHTSA) Child Passenger Safety (CPS) Technician.
consulted for child restraint manufacturers on new designs, new testing protocols,
warnings and instructions, and improving the performance of child restraint systems.
His work as a test engineer has included running crash test, sled tests, and laboratory
tests on vehicles, seat belts, and child restraint systems.
Dr. Van Arsdell conducted testing of the subject car seat and the allegedly
defective crotch buckle in this case. He also conducted testing with the exemplar CRS
and exemplar crotch buckle. Dr. Van Arsdell considered extensive published and peerreviewed literature, including his own publications, that deal with issues related to this
In forming his opinions, Dr. Van Arsdell employed generally accepted
methodologies based on logical scientific and engineering analysis.
methodologies that are used by all mechanical engineers to investigate issues similar to
those involved in this case.
The court finds Dr. Van Arsdell is qualified to render the expert opinions
expressed in his report and at his deposition. His conclusions are based on sound
mechanical engineering principles.
Any alleged criticisms of Dr. Van Arsdell’s
methodology or the testing and experimentation he performed are the subject of cross
examination. The record shows Dr. Van Arsdell reviewed sufficient facts and data and
his testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods. The surrogate fit studies
are generally accepted methodologies employed by restraint and biomechanical
experts. The plaintiffs’ challenge goes more to the weight than to the admissibility of the
evidence. The court finds Dr. Van Arsdell’s testimony relates to issues in the case and
would be helpful to the trier of fact.
James Chinni, P.E., Filing No. 722
Mr. Chinni is defendant IMMI’s expert with respect to the A-Lok adjuster. He is
also a fact witness. The plaintiffs contend Mr. Chinni's testimony fails to meet Rule
702(c), which requires that an expert's opinions be the "product of reliable principles
and methods." The plaintiffs contend that Mr. Chinni based his opinions on a review of
a 2013 Baby Trend car seat and an A-Lok adjuster strap provided to him by IMMI, but
did no studies or tests on the 2013 Baby Trend car seat. The plaintiffs also contend
Chinni's opinions relating to past Chrysler recalls should be excluded as irrelevant and
not applied to the facts of this case as required by Rule 702.
Chinni is the President and Principal Engineer at Engineering Answers LLC.
Chinni holds a Master’s Degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University. He
and has authored peer-reviewed technical papers related to occupant safety. He was
employed for 25 years at IMMI in the design, development, evaluation, and testing of
occupant safety systems, including child restraint systems.
He has designed and
developed components for child restraints and has been responsible for testing,
validation, and performance evaluation of child restraint systems.
He is expected to provide testimony on the location of the A-Lok within the
subject Car Seat and how users interact with it and on the A-Lok’s compliance with
applicable safety standards. He bases his opinions on IMMI’s testing of the subject ALok, its role in the development of the A-Lok, and his evaluation of Dr. Hoffman’s report.
He employed generally accepted methodologies based on logical scientific and
engineering analysis to reach his opinions. He also relied on his 25-year experience in
the restraint industry, his engineering education and training, his specialized knowledge
and experience with restraint systems and their components and the standards such
components must meet, as well as the scientific literature, data, articles, patents, and
other documentation referenced in his report.
The record shows Chinni’s testimony that the A-Lok is not defective is based on
sufficient facts or data and his education and experience, and is the product of reliable
engineering principles and methods. It appears that Chinni appropriately applied the
principles and methods to the facts of the case. The plaintiffs’ contention that there was
no testing to support Chinni’s conclusions can be pursued in cross-examination.
The evidence of the Chrysler minivan recall involves an integrated child seat that
is built into a minivan. The plaintiffs contend that an integrated child seat that is built
into a minivan and an infant carrier designed to be removed from the vehicle are not at
all the same or similar. IMMI contends Chinni’s testimony relating to a Chrysler minivan
recall is offered to rebut the opinions of Plaintiffs’ experts, and any difference between
the car seat at issue in the present case goes to the weight of Chinni’s testimony, not its
The court agrees that the plaintiffs’ challenge to the minivan recall evidence goes
to weight, not admissibility.
The plaintiffs can pursue the differences in cross
IT IS ORDERED that:
The defendants’ Daubert motions in limine (Filing Nos. 649, 702, and 711)
The plaintiffs’ motions to exclude (Filing Nos. 720 and 722) are denied.
Dated this 17th day of April, 2017.
BY THE COURT:
s/ Joseph F. Bataillon
Senior United States District Judge
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