Jeffrey Klingenberg; Jennifer Klingenberg Plaintiffs - Appellees
Vulcan Ladder USA, LLC Defendant-Appellant GP International Co LLC Defendant GP International Company Defendant-Appellant
Submitted: May 14, 2019
from United States District Court for the Northern District
of Iowa - Sioux City
BENTON, WOLLMAN, and GRASZ, Circuit Judges.
BENTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE
Klingenberg and his wife sued Vulcan Ladder USA, LLC, and GP
International Company, for a design defect and breach of
express warranty. After a four-day trial, the jury returned a
verdict for the Klingenbergs. Though the jury rejected the
design-defect claim, it found Vulcan and GP breached an
express warranty. The jury awarded the Klingenbergs $2, 434,
000 in damages. The district court denied defendants'
post-trial motions for judgment as a matter of law and,
alternatively, a new trial. Klingenberg v. Vulcan Ladder
USA, LLC, 2018 WL 1248007 (N.D. Iowa Mar. 9, 2018).
Vulcan and GP appeal. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1291, this court affirms.
suffered serious injuries after falling from a ladder that
Vulcan designed and distributed. GP manufactured and sold it.
The ladder's label says its "Working Load" is
"300 lbs." and it was manufactured to "OSHA
ANSI A 14.2 SPECIFICATIONS." The Klingenbergs sued
Vulcan and GP for breach of an express warranty created by
the label. They also alleged the ladder was defectively
trial centered on competing expert testimony. The
Klingenbergs' expert, Stephen E. Fournier, testified that
a design defect caused the ladder to fail while Jeffrey was
stepping onto it from the roof of a home. The defendants'
expert disagreed, opining that Jeffrey slipped off the roof
or ladder due to snow. Both experts agreed that the ladder
met American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards.
Fournier, however, added that these were minimum safety
standards, that a product could be defective despite meeting
them, and that no ANSI standard or test existed for the
defect involved in the case.
and GP moved for judgment as a matter of law before the case
was submitted to the jury, arguing that Fournier's
testimony should be stricken under Federal Rule of Evidence
702, and that the Klingenbergs could not establish causation
for either claim without his testimony. The defendants also
asserted there was no breach of express warranty because both
experts agreed the ladder met ANSI standards, and, as to GP,
that the statute of limitations barred the Klingenbergs'
claims. The district court reserved ruling on the
statute-of-limitations issue until after trial, but otherwise
denied the motion.
jury returned a verdict for the Klingenbergs. It rejected
their design-defect claim, but found they proved their
breach-of-express-warranty claim. Vulcan and GP renewed their
motion for judgment as a matter of law, alternatively
requesting a new trial. The district court denied relief.
Vulcan and GP appeal, arguing Fournier's testimony should
have been excluded, the statute of limitations bars claims
against GP, and insufficient evidence supports the verdict.
court reviews the "decision to admit expert testimony
for abuse of discretion, giving substantial deference to the
district court." United States v. McDaniel, 925
F.3d 381, 385 (8th Cir. 2019). Vulcan and GP challenge
Fournier's qualifications and methodology. The district
court correctly rejected their challenges.
a licensed Professional Engineer, has investigated over 1,
000 constructed-related incidents, 200 of which involved
ladders. He has qualified as an expert over 20 times in prior
ladder cases. He participates in continuing education to
maintain his engineering license and is OSHA-certified in
fall protection. In his decades of experience in construction
as a civil engineer, he regularly handled ladders and ensured
that construction met safety standards. His "knowledge,
skill, experience, training, or education" qualify him
as an expert. Fed.R.Evid. 702. See Kozlov v. Associated
Wholesale Grocers, Inc., 818 F.3d 380, 394 (8th Cir.
2016) (professional registered engineer with degrees in civil
engineering was qualified as expert in tractor-trailer
accident case). Cf. McDaniel, 925 F.3d at 385
(upholding admission of police officer's expert testimony
where officer with extensive drug-investigation experience
had testified as a drug-trafficking expert in federal court
about 25 times). Contrary to the defendants' position,
Rule 702 imposes no requirement that Fournier have designed
an articulating ladder or participated on an ANSI committee.
See Robinson v. GEICO Gen. Ins. Co., 447 F.3d 1096,
1100 (8th Cir. 2006) ("Gaps in an expert witness's
qualifications or knowledge generally go to the weight of the
witness's testimony, not its admissibility."
Fournier is a qualified expert, Rule 702 allows his testimony
if his "specialized knowledge will help the trier of
fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in
issue;" the testimony is "based on sufficient facts
or data" and "the product of reliable principles
and methods;" and he "has reliably applied the
principles and methods to the facts of the case."
Fed.R.Evid. 702. "The inquiry envisioned by Rule 702 is
. . . a flexible one. Its overarching subject is the
scientific validity-and thus the evidentiary relevance and
reliability-of the principles that underlie a proposed
submission." Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm.,
Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 594-95 (1993).
and GP argue that Fournier's testimony should have been
excluded because he did not test his theories on the damaged
ladder or an exemplar model. This court disagrees. He was not
required to conduct physical testing here. See Shuck v.
CNH Am., LLC, 498 F.3d 868, 875 (8th Cir. 2007)
(rejecting that experts must be excluded where they do not
test the product at issue or exemplar products). See
generally Russell v. Whirlpool Corp., 702 F.3d 450,
456-57 (8th Cir. 2012) ("[A] court should use, adapt, or
reject Daubert factors as the particular case
demands. There is no single requirement for admissibility as
long as the proffer indicates that the expert evidence is
reliable and relevant." (internal citation omitted)),
citing Daubert, 509 U.S. at 594. Fournier's
conclusions were based on his experience and expertise in
ladder investigations, general engineering principles,
information from Jeffrey about the accident, and his
examination of the damaged ladder, its design and
specifications, competitors' ladders, and photos of the
accident scene. The district court acted within its
discretion in admitting his testimony. See Russell,
702 F.3d at 457-58 (upholding admission of expert's
testimony where expert "observed the relevant evidence,
applied his specialized knowledge, excluded alternative
causal theories, and reached a conclusion").
testified that a reasonable alternative safer
design-installing retaining straps on the ladder-was feasible
based on his review of competitors' ladders. Two models
of similar ladders from competitors used retaining straps. In
a prior case he worked, a competitor's model with its
strap removed failed in the same way as the ladder here. He
did not have to conduct a more detailed analysis. See
Young v. Pollock Eng'g Grp., Inc., 428 F.3d 786, 790
(8th Cir. 2005) (expert "did not need to conduct a
detailed feasibility study" of proposed safety
modifications that defendant-manufacturer successfully
installed and used). Vulcan and GP cross-examined him about
his alleged weaknesses, including his knowledge of the
differences between the competitors' ladders and the
ladder here. See Daubert, 509 U.S. at 596