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Coffey v. Chevron U.S.A. Inc.

United States District Court, District of Wyoming

January 4, 2017

SHARON COFFEY, as the Wrongful Death Representative of Thomas Wayne Coffey, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
CHEVRON U.S.A. INC. a/k/a Chevron North American Exploration and Production Co., and/or Chevron U.S.A. Production Co., Defendant.

          ORDER ON MOTION TO STIKE EXPERT TESTIMONY

          Mark L. Carman, U.S. Magistrate Judge

         Defendant filed its Motion to Strike Opinions of Plaintiff's Expert Witness Edward Ziegler, P.E. C.S.P. on December 2, 2016 [Doc 33]. The Plaintiff filed her response on December 16, 2016 [Doc 37]. After review of the pleadings in this matter the Court has determined that oral argument or further information is not necessary to the decision on this motion. The motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         Defendant does not seek to strike Mr. Ziegler as an expert witness in all aspects, but rather focus on three areas in which it believes his proffered opinions are not admissible pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and the doctrine as originally set forth in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469. Mr. Ziegler is a registered professional engineer and a certified safety professional who was timely designated by Plaintiff in this matter to testify generally as to matters of workplace safety at the Defendant's Glencoe Junction Sulfur Terminal as relating to the fall and death of Thomas Wayne Coffey on February 26, 2014. Mr. Coffey was employed as a truck driver for Bonneville Transloaders, Inc. ("BTI"), and his duties included the loading of molten sulfur at the Defendant's facility. The process of loading the sulfur involved working at an elevated location on the top of the BTI truck and trailer being operated by Mr. Coffey. The loading facility was equipped with a safety railing/cage which was lowered over the top of the trailer in the area the BTI truck drivers were required to work in the process of loading the molten sulphur. The Plaintiff alleges that the safety cage was dangerous and defective, in part arising from the fact that the lower railing had been removed at some point in time which allowed a gap through which Mr. Coffey fell to his death. Plaintiff further alleges that Chevron failed to provide other fall protection to the truck drivers using the facility. Mr. Ziegler's expert designation addressed these issues.

         The Defendant's motion is directed to three of Mr. Ziegler's opinions.

         1. Mr. Ziegler's statement that Defendant's post-accident measures were not remedial measures. At paragraph 1.25 of Mr. Ziegler's report he stated:

The changed elevated loading station and adding other safety procedures (such as fall protection systems) and equipment after the incident was not a remedial measure; but was simply what Chevron should and could have easily accomplished earlier to make its workplace proper and safe.

         2. Mr. Ziegler's opinion expressed in discovery that Defendant's personnel, or a contractor hired by Defendant, removed the third rail from the safety cage.

         3. Mr. Ziegler opined that the lack of documents indicates that Defendant failed to follow and document it safety management system and in Defendant's opinion, Mr. Ziegler inferred that Defendant withheld, hid or destroyed such documents.

         Discussion

         Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and Daubert

          The Defendant seeks to invoke this Court's "gate-keeping" function in regard to specific areas of Mr. Zeigler's expected testimony. Rule 702 states:

         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 ...

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