Nicholas Malfitano Feb. 5, 2016, 11:31am


PHILADELPHIA – A federal appeals court has upheld a trial court ruling declaring summary judgment for Ford Motor Company and dismissing a loss of consortium claim filed against it.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit judges Theodore A. McKee, Thomas L. Ambro and Anthony J. Scirica concurred with a prior decision of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in Ford’s favor, dismissing Jacqueline C. Rupert’s loss of consortium claim.

Rupert and her husband, Michael T. Rupert, filed a product liability case against Ford in March 2012, in connection with serious injuries Michael sustained in a May 2010 motor vehicle accident in Adams Township. Michael was dismissed as a plaintiff from the suit in July 2014.

Rupert believed the District Court erred in “(1) excluding portions of her expert’s testimony; (2) dismissing her crashworthiness claim; and (3) mishandling case management.”

The District Court found Rupert’s expert, Byron Bloch, was qualified to serve as an expert in this car accident liability case based on his knowledge of automobile safety and design. But, the District Court excluded portions of Bloch’s testimony because it decided some of his conclusions were “insufficiently reliable.”

Rupert disputes these exclusions on several grounds, including that Ford’s challenges to Bloch’s methodology is simply “a veiled attack on his qualifications” and Bloch’s comparison of car designs was “rigorous and relevant.”

The Court disagreed with all of Rupert’s assertions on this point.

“Bloch’s support was shaky, at best. His rejected conclusions were not derived from testing of any kind, and he was unable to articulate bases aside from intuition,” McKee said.

“Moreover, the District Court’s tailored approach of excluding only the portions it found unreliable ensured information helpful to a trier of fact was not barred. Therefore, we affirm for essentially the same reasons set forth by the District Court in its reasoned consideration of this issue,” McKee added.

In reference to Rupert’s crashworthiness claim, she was required to prove “(1) the vehicle design was defective; (2) a safer design was practicable under the circumstances; (3) what injuries, if any, the plaintiff would have suffered had the safer design been used; and (4) what injuries are attributable to the defective design.”

At trial, the District Court ruled Rupert had not proven the third and fourth elements of those same criteria, when it granted summary judgment to Ford.

McKee said, “Rupert’s challenge to this portion of the District Court’s ruling rests on substantially the same arguments she raised with respect to her expert’s excluded testimony. Accordingly, we deny her appeal of her crashworthiness claim for the same reasons we rejected her objections to the exclusion of her expert’s testimony.”

McKee said Rupert’s claim of the District Court abusing its discretion in its overview decisions associated with the case to be “the least meritorious” of her arguments.

“First, she asserts the court was motivated by bias when it rejected her request for a discovery extension. This fails for at least two reasons. The District Court has wide latitude in managing deadlines, and generally only exercises its discretion when the requesting party shows good cause. Ms. Rupert did not,” McKee said.

“In fact, on the occasion that Rupert did demonstrate good cause, based on her husband’s surprise settlement with Ford, the District Court was considerate of Rupert’s constraints and granted her an extension. This solicitude is a far cry from abuse of discretion,” McKee continued.

Rupert also asserted the trial court judge, the Hon. Cathy Bissoon should have recused herself for having “improper personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary issues and could be called upon to testify” – due to participating in a status conference where Rupert was asked to recall the circumstances surrounding her loss of consortium claim.

“All information exchanged during the conference was inadmissible at subsequent proceedings – Rupert and her counsel were informed of this fact. Thus, we find no grounds for overturning the district court’s case management decisions,” McKee stated.

“We find no grounds for overturning the District Court’s case management decisions,” McKee said, affirming the trial court ruling.

The appellant is represented by Maurice A. Nernberg and Joshua A. Lyons of Maurice A. Nernberg & Associates and Heather L. Schmidt Bresnahan of Fiscus & Ball, in Pittsburgh.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 15-1731

U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania case 2:12-cv-00331

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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