Court Allows Marine Engineering Expert to Apply OSHA Regulations to Coast Guard Barge Inspection


Engineering Expert

Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana
Jurisdiction: Federal
Case Name: Rhodes v. Genesis Marine, LLC of Del.
Citation: 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 120614

Facts

The plaintiff was injured while working as a marine electrician for the defendant. The plaintiff filed negligence and vessel negligence suit against the defendant and retained a marine engineering expert witness to opine on liability in the case. The defendant filed a motion to exclude the opinion of plaintiff’s marine engineering expert arguing that the expert’s testimony was not reliable, as the expert referenced OSHA regulations and not the U.S. Coast Guard regulations in reaching his conclusions. The defendant also claimed that the expert’s report was not based on sufficient facts or data as the expert failed to consider any depositions, including that of the plaintiff, in formulating his conclusory opinions. The plaintiff opposed the motion to exclude the opinion of the expert.

Court’s Discussions

The defendant argued that the engineering expert’s report was unreliable, suggesting that he improperly applied OSHA regulations to the United States Coast Guard inspected barge. The plaintiff argued that even if OSHA regulations do not apply to Coast Guard inspected vessels, the regulations can still be followed as a guide.

The court found that OSHA may enforce its regulations against employers of non-seamen (such as the plaintiff in this case) aboard inspected vessels. Thus, the expert was permitted to testify that certain conditions on the barge in question violated OSHA regulations.

The court held that the engineering expert could not express an opinion that the defendant’s failure to include a hinged hatch cover, in violation of OSHA regulations, constitutes negligence per se. However, the expert was permitted to testify that the failure to provide a hinged hatch cover violated OSHA regulations and that the barge’s conduct in failing to provide a hinged hatch cover fell below the required standard of care.

The defendant sought to exclude the expert’s testimony that “the hatch cover design was defective, unreasonably dangerous, and rendered the vessel unfit for service because it lacked a hinge.” The defendant argued that this report was unreliable because the expert failed to consider any depositions, including that of the plaintiff, in formulating his conclusory opinions.

The plaintiff argued that the expert performed an inspection of the barge aboard which the plaintiff was injured and the expert report contained photographs of the unhinged hatch cover in question, which were obtained during this inspection. Therefore, the plaintiff argued that the engineering expert’s opinions were based on sufficient data as well as relevant educational background, experience, training, and expertise.

Held

The court concluded that the defendant’s criticisms went to the weight of engineering expert’s testimony, and not to its admissibility. Accordingly, the defendant’s motion in limine was denied.

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