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Sahm v. STL International, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Oregon

April 22, 2015

GEORGE SAHM, Plaintiff,
v.
STL INTERNATIONAL, INC. and COSTCO WHOLESALE CORPORATION, Defendants.

Todd A. Bradley and William A. Gaylord, GAYLORD EYERMAN BRADLEY, P.C., Portland, OR, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

Mark P. Scheer, Dennis G. Woods, and Andrew T. Gust, SCHEER & ZEHNDER LLP, Portland, OR, Attorneys for Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

MICHAEL H. SIMON, District Judge.

Plaintiff purchased an inversion table manufactured by Defendant STL International, Inc. ("STL") and sold by Defendant Costco Wholesale Corporation ("Costco") (collectively, "Defendants"). A few days later, Plaintiff was injured when he fell from the inversion table while it was fully inverted. Plaintiff filed suit in the Circuit Court of the State of Oregon for the County of Multnomah, alleging claims for strict products liability and negligence. Costco timely removed the case to this Court. Before the Court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

STANDARDS

A party is entitled to summary judgment if the "movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The moving party has the burden of establishing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Clicks Billiards Inc. v. Sixshooters Inc., 251 F.3d 1252, 1257 (9th Cir. 2001). Although "[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge... ruling on a motion for summary judgment, " the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position [is] insufficient...." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 255 (1986). "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Inversion Table

On April 9, 2011, Plaintiff purchased an STL InvertAlign 4 Inversion Table ("InvertAlign") at Costco. The InvertAlign has an "A-frame" construction with a bed on which a user lies and a main shaft that contains the "ankle locking mechanism" or "ankle clamping mechanism." This mechanism is the component that is alleged to be defective and to have failed during Plaintiff's sit-up maneuver. The ankle locking mechanism consists of foot pedals on which the user's feet rest, "C" clamps that sit behind each of the user's ankles, foam-padded rollers that rest against the user's ankles during use, and a gear and pin ratchet-like locking mechanism. The gear plates consist of a series of raised "teeth" that have rounded "peaks" at the top, with a "valley" between them that is also rounded. Within the handle of the ankle locking mechanism are two springs that are connected to a pin. When the handle is depressed, the pin is raised so the user can move the clamp forward or backward along the gear plates, making the foam rollers and "C" clamps tighter or looser against the user's ankles. To lock the "C" clamps and foam rollers into place, the pin is supposed to lock into a "valley" of the gear teeth when the user releases the handle.

The InvertAlign has a "triple lock" system. The spring pin seating in the valley is the first lock. The design of the gear teeth, designed so that movement by the user should cause the pin to drop into a valley if it is not already properly seated in the valley, is the second lock. The third lock is the "gravity" lock, which engages when the InvertAlign is inverted past 45 degrees and applies pressure to the pin to hold it in place.

B. Plaintiff's Injury

On the day he purchased his InvertAlign, April 9, 2011, Plaintiff and his wife assembled the InvertAlign at their home. Included with Plaintiff's InvertAlign were a set of assembly instructions, an Owner's Manual, and an instructional DVD. Before using their InvertAlign, Plaintiff and his wife read all of the instructions and watched the DVD.

Plaintiff first used his InvertAlign on April 9, 2011. He confirmed that all the settings on the table were correct before using his InvertAlign for the first time. He set the InvertAlign for only a partial inversion and used it for approximately 10-15 minutes. On April 10, 2011, Plaintiff again used his InvertAlign. This time he fully inverted, hung, and then performed a series of inverted sit-ups. On April 11, 2011, Plaintiff used his InvertAlign for the third time. He fully inverted and stretched. He did not perform any sit-ups.

On April 12, 2011, Plaintiff used his InvertAlign for the fourth time. Before using his InvertAlign, he checked that the settings were correct. Plaintiff also states that he followed the manufacturer's instructions for mounting the InvertAlign and securing his ankles. He then tilted into a full inversion, hung upside down for a minute or two, and began to perform a "plank" sit-up, at which time his ankles unexpectedly released from the ankle lock mechanism. This caused Plaintiff to fall to the ground, resulting in his injury.

DISCUSSION

Defendants argue that summary judgment is appropriate in this case because Plaintiff fails to offer evidence that: (1) Plaintiff's injury was caused by a defective InvertAlign; (2) the ankle locking mechanism on Plaintiff's InvertAlign was defectively designed; (3) Defendants failed to warn or inadequately warned Plaintiff regarding the use and risks associated with the InvertAlign; (4) the ankle locking mechanism on the Inversion Table was defectively constructed or manufactured; and (5) Defendants did not adequately test the ankle locking mechanism on Plaintiff's InvertAlign. At oral argument, Plaintiff agreed to dismiss his theories based on failure to warn (or inadequate warning or instruction), defective manufacturing or construction, and failure to test. Plaintiff also agreed to dismiss his negligence claim. Thus, Plaintiff's only remaining claim is for strict products liability based on allegedly defective design.

Defendant continues to argue that, in response to Defendants' motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff fails to offer evidence of either causation or defective design. Defendant also moves to exclude the testimony of Plaintiff's expert witness. The Court will first address the admissibility of the opinions offered by Plaintiff's expert.

A. Expert Testimony

1. Legal Standard

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently discussed the standard under which a district court should consider the admissibility of expert testimony. City of Pomona v. SQM N. Am. Corp., 750 F.3d 1036 (9th Cir. 2014). As explained by the Ninth Circuit:

Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence provides that expert opinion evidence is admissible if: (1) the witness is sufficiently qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education; (2) the scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue; (3) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data; (4) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and ...

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