United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
JAMES RODGERS and SHERYLL RODGERS, individually and as Husband and Wife; and CHRISTOPHER EVANS and JILL EVANS, individually and as Husband and Wife, Plaintiffs,
BEECHCRAFT CORPORATION, f/k/a Hawker Beechcraft Corporation, a Kansas Corporation; HAWKER BEECHCRAFT GLOBAL CUSTOMER SUPPORT, LLC, f/k/a Hawker Beechcraft Services, Inc., a Kansas limited liability company, Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
V. LAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
scheduling order (Dkt. # 18), the Court set a deadline of
June 6, 2016 for the parties to file motions in
limine. Defendants Beechcraft Corporation
(Beechcraft) and Hawker Beechcraft Global Customer Support,
LLC (HBGCS) filed two motions in limine (Dkt. ## 62, 66), and
plaintiffs filed seven motions in limine (Dkt. ## 43, 44, 69,
70, 71, 72, 73). The parties' motions in limine are fully
briefed. The motions in limine had been referred to the
magistrate judge, but the referral has been withdrawn.
See Dkt. ## 76, 205.
March 16, 2015, plaintiffs James Rodgers and Christopher
Evans filed this case alleging a manufacturer's products
liability claim against Beechcraft and a negligence claim
against Beechcraft and HBGCS. Their spouses, Sheryll Rodgers
and Jill Evans, also allege claims of loss of consortium
against defendants. James Rodgers and Christopher Evans were
passengers on a Beech Premier 390 aircraft, manufactured by
Beechcraft in 2008, that was flying from Tulsa, Oklahoma to
South Bend, Indiana on March 17, 2013, and the pilot of the
aircraft was Wesley Caves. During the flight, plaintiffs
allege that both engines of the plane were inadvertently shut
down and the pilot was unable to restart both of the engines
due to a defective electrical bus distribution system. Dkt. #
28, at 5-6. The pilot was unable to successfully land the
plane and it crashed near the South Bend Airport, and James
Rodgers and Christopher Evans were injured in the crash.
Plaintiffs allege that the alternate landing gear system
failed to deploy properly during the attempted landing and
that the alternate landing gear system was defectively
designed. Id. at 12.
2016, plaintiffs filed a motion to file a second amended
complaint (Dkt. # 93) adding a theory of product defect based
on the aircraft flight manual (AFM), and they allege that the
AFM contains faulty instructions for restarting the
electrical generator following a dual engine shutdown.
Id. at 4-5. Defendants opposed plaintiffs'
motion to amend on the ground that plaintiffs' motion was
untimely. The Court found that plaintiffs had established
good cause to amend the complaint outside of the deadline
established in the scheduling order for parties to file
motions to amend. Dkt. # 128, at 6. However, plaintiffs'
motion was filed on the same day as defendants' motion
for summary judgment, and the Court considered that there was
a legitimate question as to whether the motion to amend was
filed in an attempt to avoid summary judgment. Id.
at 7. The Court determined that evidence relating to the AFM
would be offered at trial even if the motion to amend were
denied, and defendants would not be prejudiced by granting
the motion to amend. Plaintiffs were permitted to file a
second amended complaint.
second amended complaint (Dkt. # 129), plaintiffs allege
claims of negligence against Beechcraft and HBGCS, a
manufacturer's products liability claim against
Beechcraft, and loss of consortium claims against Beechcraft
and HBGCS. The second amended complaint alleges three defects
with the subject aircraft: (1) HBGCS incorrectly installed a
repair kit and created a defect in the electrical bus
distribution system that caused intermittent electrical
supply to essential systems; (2) the alternate landing gear
did not operate as represented in the design specifications;
and (3) the AFM included faulty instructions for restarting
the electrical generators following a shutdown. Dkt. # 129,
at 5-7. In addition, plaintiffs allege that defendants were
negligent due to inadequate assembly and inspection
practices, substandard wiring practices, and the design of
the alternate landing gear. Id. at 10.
motion in limine is a request for guidance by the
court regarding an evidentiary question, '” which
the court may provide at its discretion to aid the parties in
formulating trial strategy.” Jones v. Stotts,
59 F.3d 143, 146 (10th Cir. 1995). Motions in limine provide
a way for the district court to rule in advance of trial on
possible evidentiary disputes, because this may avoid a
lengthy interruption during the trial to resolve objections
to evidence. Wilkins v. Kmart Corp., 487 F.Supp.2d
1216, 1218 (D. Kan. 2007). A ruling on a motion in limine
“is no more than a preliminary, or advisory, opinion
that falls entirely within the discretion of the district
court.” Edens v. The Netherlands Ins. Co., 834
F.3d 1116, 1130 (10th Cir. 2016). Unless otherwise stated in
this Opinion and Order, the Court's rulings on
evidentiary issues are preliminary and non-final and the
Court “may change its ruling at any time for whatever
reason it deems appropriate.” T.G. v. Remington
Arms Co., Inc., 2014 WL 2589443, *2 (N.D. Okla. June 10,
parties' motions in limine are primarily based on the
admissibility of evidence under Federal Rules of Evidence 401
and 403. Under Rule 401, evidence is relevant if “(a)
it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than
it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of
consequence in determining the action.” Fed.R.Evid.
401. However, a court may exclude relevant evidence if
“its probative value is substantially outweighed by a
danger of . . . unfair prejudice, confusing the issues,
misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly
presenting cumulative evidence.” Fed.R.Evid. 403.
“Evidence may be unfairly prejudicial if it would
likely provoke the jury's emotional response or otherwise
tend to adversely affect the jury's attitude toward a
particular matter . . . [but] [e]vidence is not unfairly
prejudicial merely because it damages a party's
case.” Leon v. FedEx Ground Package System,
Inc., 313 F.R.D. 615, 622 (D.N.M. 2016). “To be
unfairly prejudicial, the evidence must have
‘an undue tendency to suggest decision on an improper
basis, commonly, though not necessarily, an emotional
one.” United States v. Caraway, 534 F.3d 1290,
1301 (10th Cir. 2008) (emphasis in original). For the purpose
of this Opinion and Order, the Court does not know what
evidence will be presented at trial and the Court will
preliminarily resolve all doubts in favor of admissibility of
Motion to Exclude Evidence of Caves' Pilot Training (Dkt.
ask the Court to exclude evidence of Caves' training in
an Eclipse 500 aircraft, because this is not the type of
aircraft involved in the accident and evidence of Caves'
pilot training is inadmissible under Rules 404 and 406. Dkt.
# 43. Defendants respond that plaintiffs have placed
Caves' training, specifically his ability to follow
checklists, directly at issue by alleging that the checklists
in the AFM were defective and by offering expert testimony
that Caves was a skilled pilot who acted reasonably up to the
time of the crash. Dkt. # 83.
owned an Eclipse 500 aircraft and he received training from
Keith Jones in the Eclipse 500. Dkt. # 83-6, at 4 The
training occurred in February and March 2012, or about 13
months before the crash giving rise to this lawsuit. Jones
noted on one training flight that Caves failed to follow
checklist procedures, and Jones' notes contained a number
of comments “that the checklist procedure was not
either done or verbalized.” Id. at 5, 9. Jones
acknowledged that the Eclipse 500 was a different aircraft
than the Premier 390, and Jones could not comment on
Caves's training for the Premier 390. Dkt. # 43-2, at
8-9. Jones recommended that Caves needed more training before
he could become certified to fly the Eclipse 500, but he
believed that Caves would likely obtain the required
certification if he continued to train. Id. at 10.
Instead of continuing to train in the Eclipse 500, Caves
immediately put the Eclipse 500 up for sale and purchased
another aircraft. Id. at 16. In the second amended
complaint, plaintiffs acknowledge that both engines were shut
down during flight before the accident on March 17, 2013, but
they claim that Caves could not have restarted the electrical
generators due to an incorrect Air Start checklist in the
AFM. Dkt. # 129, at 6-7.
motion in limine to exclude evidence of Caves' training
in the Eclipse 500 aircraft should be denied. One of
plaintiffs' theories of product defect is that the
checklist in the AFM for restarting the electrical generators
is defective. Id. Defendants respond that the pilot
either followed the wrong checklist or incorrectly followed
the required steps to restart the engines and/or generators.
Dkt. # 149, at 5-7. This places the pilot's ability to
follow a checklist directly at issue, and evidence of
Caves' inability to correctly follow a checklist is
relevant. In addition, plaintiffs intend to offer expert
testimony that Caves was a qualified and skilled pilot who
was acting reasonably under the circumstances. If plaintiffs
proceed with this argument, this opens the door to evidence
that Caves had difficulty following checklists in his
training. It is not necessary for the Court to reach
plaintiffs' arguments concerning the application of Rules
404 and 406, because the disputed evidence is relevant and
admissible without treating the evidence as a prior bad act
or evidence of habit.
Motion to Exclude Evidence of Improper Aircraft Operation
(Dkt. # 44)
ask the Court to exclude Caves' statement that he
regularly flew the subject aircraft over the recommended
weight limit and evidence that the overspeed warning horn was
heard twice before the aircraft's engines were shut off
by a passenger on March 17, 2013. Dkt. # 44. Defendants
respond that evidence that the overspeed warning horn went
off is directly relevant to the cause of the crash, and they
argue that evidence that the pilot disregarded weight limits
is relevant to plaintiffs' claims that the pilot was a
skilled pilot who would have followed instructions in the
AFM. Dkt. # 80.
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) prepared a
transcript after reviewing the cockpit voice recorder (CVR)
following the crash. Caves informs his passengers that the
landing gear of the aircraft has a weight limit of 13, 000
pounds, Caves states that he does not “have any problem
with [13, 500 pounds].” Dkt. # 80-1, at 12. Caves goes
on to say that “so even though the book is that I
don't . . . pay a whole lot of attention to it.”
Id. The transcript also shows that overspeed
warnings were heard two times before the engines were shut
off. Id. at 15, 25.
argue that the Caves's statements concerning flying the
aircraft over the recommended weight limit and the two
overspeed warnings noted in the transcript of the CVR are
irrelevant, because neither the aircraft's weight nor
speed were the cause of the crash. Dkt. # 44, at 5.
Plaintiffs cite Fed.R.Evid. 404 and 406 and argue that
evidence that Caves claimed to regularly fly the aircraft
over the recommended weight limit is inadmissible.
Id. at 7-11. Defendants respond that they are not
seeking to introduce the Caves' statement as a prior bad
act or as evidence of habit, but as rebuttal to
plaintiffs' assertions that Caves was a qualified pilot
who would have followed instructions in the AFM. This would
be a permissible use of evidence that Caves claimed to
disregard the manufacturer's recommended weight limit.
Defendants would not be prohibited under Rules 404 or 406
from rebutting plaintiffs' claims concerning the
Caves' piloting skills and willingness to follow the
manufacturer's recommendations concerning operation of
the aircraft. Likewise, evidence that Caves set off two
overspeed warnings and operated the aircraft in excess of the
speed recommended by the manufacturer is relevant as to
Caves' piloting skills and his disregard for the
manufacturer's safety recommendations. Admission of this
evidence will not ...