The opinion of the court was delivered by: IRENAS
Plaintiffs instituted this products liability action against a manufacturer of computer keyboards seeking damages for personal injuries and loss of consortium. Defendants now move the Court to preclude plaintiffs' expert testimony pursuant to Federal Rules of Evidence 403, 702, and 703. Because the admissible proffered expert testimony fails to establish a defect in defendants' keyboard or establish specific causation between defendants' product and plaintiffs' injuries, the Court will grant defendants' motion in part, grant defendants summary judgment, and dismiss this action in its entirety.
Since 1988, plaintiff Carole Reiff has worked as a secretary for the township of Howell, New Jersey. In performing her job. Mrs. Reiff types on a computer keyboard on the average of twenty-five to thirty hours each week. By the early 1990's, she began to experience numbness and pain in her wrists and hands. Doctors diagnosed her with bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome in June, 1994. Mrs. Reiff underwent surgery on two separate occasions in March, 1995 to alleviate her condition and returned to work that May. In January, 1996, Mrs. Reiff began using a new computer keyboard made by Microsoft that is split into two halves with each half horizontally rotated to form an obtuse angle, arguably an ergonomically superior design.
On June 21, 1995, plaintiffs instituted this action against the manufacturer of the computer keyboard Mrs. Reiff used at work between 1989 and 1995 and its parent companies.
In support of their claims, plaintiffs retained as experts Alan Hedge, Ph. D., an engineer and ergonomist, Karl H.E. Kroemer, Ph. D., an engineer and ergonomist. Robert J. Cunitz, Ph. D, a human factors psychologist, and Gary M. Goldstein, M.D. a physician. Through these experts. plaintiffs hope to establish that defendants' computer keyboard was defective and that its defects caused Mrs. Reiff's condition.
Dr. Hedge tested defendants' computer keyboard to determine whether it requires excessive keying forces. He first chose a representative key from each keyboard row to test--E from the top row, H from the home row, and M from the first row. With a hand-held push-pull force gauge, he then tested the force required to activate each key at its center and at each of its four corners. Last, he averaged the results for each key location and compared them to industry keyforce parameters and defendants' company specifications. See ANSI-HFS 100, American National Standard for Human Factors Engineering of Visual Display Terminal Workstations § 7.10 (1988) [hereinafter ANSI-HFS 100]; Defendants' Ex. 8 (Company Specifications).
ANSI-HFS 100 provides that the force required to activate keyboard keys should range between 0.25 N and 1.50 N--preferably between 0.50 N and 0.60 N--when struck vertically at a key's center.
See id. When struck vertically at the center, the E, H, and M keys scored 0.61 N, 0.58 N, and 0.62 N respectively--each well within the ANSI-HFS standard. At their corners, the H and M keys still averaged within the acceptable ANSI-HFS range, while the E key exceeded it. Specifically, at its top left corner, the E key required between approximately 2.10 N for activation. See Defendants' Ex. 6 at Fig. 7 (Hedge Report dated June 10, 1995).
From these results, Dr. Hedge concludes that defendants' keyboard requires excessive keyforces. See id. at 5. Because "carpal tunnel syndrome arise[s] from a mix of [three] ergonomic factors--force, repetition, and posture," Dr. Hedge considers the excessive keyforces required by defendants' keyboard to be a product defect. See Defendants' Ex. 7 at 6 (Hedge Report dated June 10, 1995).
Asked to compare defendants' keyboard to the new Microsoft split keyboard, Dr. Hedge added to his earlier reports. He reviewed a study of the Microsoft keyboard, the warnings about keyboard use accompanying the Microsoft keyboard, and Mrs. Reiff's deposition testimony concerning her comfort typing on the Microsoft keyboard. Based on this review, Dr. Hedge concludes that Mrs. Reiff's injuries could have been minimized if not prevented had defendants' keyboard been designed like the Microsoft keyboard or had defendants' keyboard contained user warnings like those in the Microsoft keyboard's owner's manual. See Defendants' Ex. 12 at 2 (Hedge Report dated June 19, 1996). Accordingly, he considers defendants' keyboard's conventional design and lack of warnings both product defects, as well.
Dr. Kroemer reviewed hundreds of publications relating to keyboard use and cumulative trauma disorders ("CTDs") to determine the relevant "state of the art" of computer keyboard design. See Defendants' Ex. 30 (Kroemer Report); Plaintiffs' Ex. 32 (same). His report reveals that CTDs were specifically associated with keyboard use as early as the 1920's. See Defendants' Ex. 30 at 39. By the 1950's, he reports it was "extensively known in the medical profession" that CTDs were "related to the aspects of keying operations and the design features of keys and keyboards." Id. In the 1960's, recommendations for the redesign of keys and keyboards surfaced in the ergonomic and industry literature. See id. By the end of the 1970's, Dr. Kroemer reports, biomechanical research "clearly established" a connection between CTDs, keying force, repetition, and posture, and efforts were made to lessen required keying force and improve keying posture. See id. at 39-40.
Dr. Cunitz performed a human factors analysis of the need for and adequacy of warnings with respect to injuries associated with computer keyboard use. First, he determined whether defendants' keyboard posed a risk of injury justifying a warning. He then designed a warning and determined whether it would be effective. See Defendants' Ex. 79 at 3-5 (Cunitz Report). As for his first determination, Dr. Cunitz concluded that "warnings of the danger of various musculoskeletal injuries were necessary" by virtue of the "known and suspected risks associated with intensive keyboard use." Id. at 3. As for his second determination, Dr. Cunitz generally described an appropriate warning and attached an article he authored on effective warnings. See id. at 4, 15.
A. Standard for Admissibility of Expert Testimony
Under Federal Rule of Evidence, 104(a), "Preliminary questions concerning the qualifications of a person to be a witness, . . . or the admissibility of evidence shall be determined by the court." Thus, as a preliminary matter, a proponent of expert testimony must establish his expert is qualified and his testimony is admissible by a preponderance of the evidence. See Daubert, 509 U.S. 579, 113 S. Ct. 2786, 2796 n.10, 125 L. Ed. 2d 469 (1993) (quoting Bourjaily v. United States, 483 U.S. 171, 175-76, 97 L. Ed. 2d 144, 107 S. Ct. 2775 (1987)).
To be admissible, expert testimony must meet the requirements set forth in Federal Rules of Evidence 702, 703, and 403. In Re Paoli R.R. Yard PCB Litig., 35 F.3d 717, 741-43 (3d Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 131 L. Ed. 2d 134, 115 S. Ct. 1253 (1995). The Court addresses the standard of admissibility of each rule in turn.
If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise.
Rule 702 has three major requirements: the witness must be qualified to be an expert, the expert must testify to reliable scientific evidence, and the expert's testimony must assist the trier of fact. See Paoli, 35 F.3d at 741-43. The first of these requirements has been interpreted very liberally. See id. at 741. Exclusion is improper simply because an expert does not have the most appropriate degree or training. Id.
The inquiry into reliability requires the court to examine whether the expert has "good grounds" for his opinions. Id. at 742 (quoting Daubert, 113 S. Ct. at 2795). The Third Circuit requires district courts to examine all factors relevant to discovering whether particular scientific evidence is reliable, including those factors listed in Daubert and Paoli as well as any other inquiry that the district court finds is relevant. See id.
The Daubert -Paoli factors are: (1) whether the expert's hypothesis can be and has been tested, (2) whether the method has been subject to peer review, (3) the known or potential rate of error, (4) the existence of standards controlling the technique's operation, (5) whether the method has been generally accepted in the scientific community, (6) the relationship of the technique to methods which have been established to have been ...