ROBERTSON-ARMSTRONG v. ROBINSON HELICOPTER COMPANY, INCORPORATED et al
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE HARVEY BARTLE, III ON 11/19/15. 11/19/15 ENTERED & E-MAILED.(fdc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
ROBINSON HELICOPTER COMPANY,
INC., et al.
November 19, 2015
Plaintiff Julia Robertson-Armstrong
(“Robertson-Armstrong”) was severely injured on July 20, 2011
when a helicopter in which she was a passenger crashed in New
She has sued Robinson Helicopter Company, Inc.
(“Robinson”), the manufacturer of the helicopter, as well as
Nassau Helicopters, Inc. (“Nassau”), which owned and operated it
at the time of the crash. 1
Her complaint includes claims for
strict liability, negligence, negligent misrepresentation and
omission, and fraud against Robinson and a negligence claim
1. Roberston-Armstrong also sued three related business
entities: Textron, Inc. (“Textron”); AVCO Corporation (“AVCO”);
and Lycoming, a/k/a Lycoming Engines, a/k/a Lycoming Engines
Operating Division of AVCO Corporation, a/k/a Textron Lycoming
Reciprocating Engine Division (“Lycoming”). She alleged that
Lycoming had manufactured the engine of the subject helicopter
and its “fuel related components,” that Lycoming was a division
of AVCO, and that Textron was liable for AVCO’s acts under a
participation theory. On April 23, 2014 the court dismissed
Robertson-Armstrong’s claims against Lycoming and Textron. The
parties subsequently stipulated to the dismissal of
Robertson-Armstrong’s claims against AVCO and Nassau’s
crossclaims against AVCO and Textron.
Robinson and Nassau subsequently filed
crossclaims against one another, each asserting that the other
is liable for the harm alleged.
Robinson has filed a number of pretrial motions
challenging Robertson-Armstrong’s experts under Daubert v.
Merrel Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993), and Rule 702 of
the Federal Rules of Evidence.
We will now consider the motion
of Robinson to preclude Robertson-Armstrong’s expert Harold L.
Miller II (“Miller”) from offering certain opinions at trial.
The court has a "gatekeeping" function in connection
with expert testimony.
See Gen. Elec. Co., et al. v. Joiner,
522 U.S. 136, 142 (1997); see also Daubert, 509 U.S. at 589.
Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence 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; and (d) the expert has reliably
applied the principles and methods to the
facts of the case.
Fed. R. Evid. 702.
As our Court of Appeals has repeatedly
noted, Rule 702 embodies three requirements:
reliability, and fit.
Pineda v. Ford Motor Co., 520 F.3d 237,
244 (3d Cir. 2008).
An expert is qualified if he "possess[es] specialized
Schneider ex rel. Estate of Schneider v. Fried, 320
F.3d 396, 404 (3d Cir. 2003).
This does not necessarily require
formal credentials, as "a broad range of knowledge, skills, and
training qualify an expert," and may include informal
qualifications such as real-world experience.
In re Paoli R.R.
Yard PCB Litig., 35 F.3d 717, 741 (3d Cir. 1994).
qualification standard is a liberal one, and an expert may be
sufficiently qualified under Rule 702 even if "the trial court
does not deem the proposed expert to be the best qualified or
because the proposed expert does not have the specialization
that the court considers most appropriate."
Holbrook v. Lykes
Bros. S.S. Co., 80 F.3d 777, 782 (3d Cir. 1996).
To determine reliability, we focus not on the expert's
conclusion but on whether that conclusion is "based on the
methods and procedures of science rather than on subjective
belief or unsupported speculation."
Schneider, 320 F.3d at 404
(internal quotation marks omitted).
Our analysis may include
such factors as:
(1) whether a method consists of a testable
hypothesis; (2) whether the method has been
subject to peer review; (3) the known or
potential rate of error; (4) the existence
and maintenance of standards controlling the
technique's operation; (5) whether the
method is generally accepted; (6) the
relationship of the technique to methods
which have been established to be reliable;
(7) the qualifications of the expert witness
testifying based on the methodology; and (8)
the non-judicial uses to which the method
has been put.
Pineda, 520 F.3d at 247-48.
"[T]he test of reliability is flexible" and this court
possesses a broad latitude in determining reliability.
Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137, 141-42 (1999).
reliable under Daubert, a party need not prove that his or her
expert's opinion is "correct."
Paoli, 35 F.3d at 744.
As long as an expert's scientific testimony
rests upon good grounds, based on what is
known, it should be tested by the adversary
process –competing expert testimony and
active cross–examination – rather than
excluded from jurors' scrutiny for fear that
they will not grasp its complexities or
satisfactorily weigh its inadequacies.
United States v. Mitchell, 365 F.3d 215, 244 (3d Cir. 2004)
(quoting Ruiz–Troche v. Pepsi Cola Bottling Co., 161 F.3d 77, 85
(1st Cir. 1998)).
As for "fit," expert testimony must also "assist the
trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact
Fed. R. Evid. 702.
Thus, to "fit," such evidence
must bear some relation to the "particular disputed factual
issues in the case."
United States v. Downing, 753 F.2d 1224,
1237 (3d Cir. 1985).
Accordingly, this factor has been
described as one of relevance.
Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms.,
Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 591 (1993); Paoli, 35 F.3d at 745 & n.13.
Miller was retained by Robertson-Armstrong to provide
expert opinions on “safety issues, emergency procedures, and
industry safety standards” related to the Robinson R22 helicopter
and to opine on the cause of the subject crash.
Miller’s Curriculum Vitae and an affidavit signed by him
and submitted by Robertson-Armstrong shed light on his background
in aviation safety.
A certified helicopter pilot and flight
instructor, Miller has accumulated more than 1200 flight hours in
the Robinson R22 model helicopter, 800 of which were spent
instructing flight students.
He has completed numerous courses in
In his affidavit, he emphasizes that an
understanding of helicopter design is essential to piloting and
Accordingly, he is trained in certain aspects of
helicopter design, and is familiar with the design elements of
rotocraft generally and the Robinson R22 helicopter in particular.
As a commercial helicopter pilot, Miller is also required to remain
familiar with federal aviation regulations.
Finally, Miller has
participated in aviation accident investigations and has assisted
in the assessment of crash causation on multiple occasions.
In this matter, Miller prepared an expert report dated
July 6, 2015 as well as a supplemental report dated September 30,
His July 6 report details his analysis relating to the
subject crash and sets forth conclusions about whether that subject
crash was caused by mechanical failure, whether the Robinson R22
helicopter complies with federal regulations, whether the design of
the R22 helicopter is “unreasonably dangerous,” whether the design
of the R22 helicopter permits it to be operated safely by an
experienced pilot as set forth in the federal aviation regulations,
whether Robinson is aware of the R22 helicopter’s allegedly
dangerous character and whether it responsibly marketed the
aircraft in light of that knowledge, and whether the helicopter’s
design features caused the crash and Robertson-Armstrong’s
Miller states that he formed his conclusions by
consulting deposition transcripts, pleadings, discovery documents
provided by the parties, photographs and blueprints related to the
subject helicopter and the crash, and regulatory and instructional
materials, among other items.
Robinson concedes that Miller is qualified “to testify
regarding the operation of helicopters and the standard of care for
It maintains, however, that he lacks the
qualifications to provide his opinions regarding helicopter
engineering and design, helicopter engine selection and design, and
Robinson further contends that Miller’s
opinions on those three topics are inherently unreliable in that
they are “based on pure conjecture and baseless assumptions that
lack any factual support in the record.”2
We first address whether Miller is qualified to offer
the opinions at issue.
As noted above, Miller has extensive
expertise in piloting, which Robinson does not dispute.
Robinson’s argument overlooks, however, is that the nature of
Miller’s piloting background also qualifies him to offer testimony
on helicopter engineering and design, helicopter engine selection
and design, and regulatory compliance.
In order to obtain his
piloting credentials, Miller developed extensive familiarity with
helicopter design, and he must maintain this familiarity in order
to fulfill his obligations as a commercial pilot and instructor.
This expertise is reinforced by Miller’s role as a helicopter
As to his qualifications with respect to the
federal aviation regulations, Miller’s work as a commercial pilot
requires him to be familiar with and understand those regulations.
As a result, he holds “specialized expertise" in that area.
Schneider, 320 F.3d at 404.
In sum, Miller is qualified to
offer opinions on helicopter engineering and design, helicopter
engine selection and design, and regulatory compliance.
We note, however, that Miller opines in his report that
“Robinson . . . is aware of the deficient and dangerous operating
2. Robinson does not appear to challenge the “fit” of Miller’s
testimony to the facts of this particular case. See Pineda, 520
F.3d at 244.
characteristics and yet markets the R22 helicopter to inexperienced
pilots and instructors.”
He goes on to discuss the company’s
familiarity with the experience levels of the pilots to whom it
market its products and speculates as to how these pilots might
have reacted had they known of the R22 helicopter’s purportedly
Our thorough review of Miller’s Curriculum
Vitae and affidavit does not convince us that he has any
qualifications to opine on Robinson’s knowledge or management
practices or on the speculative behavior of its customers.
therefore preclude him from offering these opinions at trial.
We turn now to the merits of Robinson’s position that
Miller’s remaining opinions about the design of helicopters and
helicopter engines and about federal aviation regulations have “no
Contrary to Robinson’s assertions, these opinions
appear to be the product of generally-accepted investigative
See Pineda, 520 F.3d at 247-48.
determining that the subject helicopter is “unreasonably
dangerous,” Miller identified specific factors which make this
factors in his report.
He provides support for those
Although Robinson takes issue with
Miller’s statement that the R22 helicopter “is unable to perform
in its normal operating envelope,” Miller explains clearly that
he based this determination on the aircraft’s design, “its
‘de-rated’ engine, and its low inertia rotor system.”
Robinson also argues that Miller impermissibly draws
legal conclusions by opining that the Robinson R22 helicopter
requires “exceptional piloting skills and alertness” in
violation of federal aviation regulations.
We disagree with
Robinson’s assertion that this testimony must be barred.
Miller’s familiarity with the applicable regulations and his
detailed explanation of his conclusion demonstrate that it is
reliably based in fact.
Finally, we disagree with Robinson that
Miller should be precluded from offering certain opinions which
the company characterizes as “foundationally incorrect.”
Whether those opinions are incorrect is an issue for the trier
See Mitchell, 365 F.3d at 244.
Further, Robinson is wrong that Miller’s opinions are
the result of “pure conjecture.”
In fact, as noted above,
Miller formulated his conclusions by consulting a wide variety
of materials related to the subject helicopter and the crash,
including materials related to the design of the Robinson R22
helicopter and other models.
In analyzing the materials used in
his investigation, Miller drew upon the same considerable
experience that qualifies him to testify in this matter.
Miller’s opinions clearly “rest upon good grounds” and should
therefore “be tested by the adversary process . . . rather than
excluded from juror’s scrutiny.”
See Mitchell, 365 F.3d at 244.
In sum, Miller is qualified to provide his opinions on
regarding helicopter engineering and design, helicopter engine
selection and design, and federal aviation regulations, and the
methodology he used in forming those opinions was reliable.
However, he is not qualified to opine on Robinson’s knowledge or
management practices or on the specific behavior of its customers.
Robinson’s motion will be granted insofar as it concerns this
latter category of opinions.
It will otherwise be denied.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?