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Wells v. Robinson Helicopter Co., Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

June 24, 2015

LARRY WELLS; DONNA WELLS; and, CONNIE FARMER, individually and as personal representative of Charles Farmer, Plaintiffs,
v.
ROBINSON HELICOPTER CO., INC., Defendant. WEBB GROUP, L.P., Plaintiff,
v.
ROBINSON HELICOPTER CO., INC., Defendant. Consolidated with Case No. 3:12-CV-613-CWR-FKB

ORDER

CARLTON W. REEVES, District Judge.

Before the Court are nine motions in limine. Docket Nos. 220, 221, 223, 225, 227, 229, 231, 234, & 236. This Order resolves six of them.

The allegations of this case have been recited in prior Orders. See Wells v. Robinson Helicopter Co., No. 3:12-CV-564, 2015 WL 1189847, at *1 (S.D.Miss. Mar. 16, 2015). It is enough to say that this is a product liability and warranty case arising out of a fatal helicopter crash. Id. Trial is set for next month.

I. Defendant's Motion to Bar Testimony of In-House Counsel [220]

Robinson Helicopter Company first seeks an Order prohibiting the plaintiffs from eliciting testimony from two of Robinson's in-house attorneys. The plaintiffs agree as to one of the attorneys but say that in the event of a punitive damages phase they may need to call Chief Financial Officer and Corporate Attorney Tim A. Goetz to testify about Robinson's net worth, and only then in his capacity as CFO. Goetz is listed as an attorney of record on the docket sheet of this case.

The Court discussed the motion with the parties at the Pretrial Conference. The discussion revealed two sub-issues.

The first concerns how the plaintiffs are supposed to receive and evaluate evidence on Robinson's net worth. Robinson acknowledges its obligation to have net worth information available at trial, see Docket No. 255, but it is not clear when that information must be exchanged. Case law does not answer this question. Compare Price v. Lockheed Martin Corp., No. 4:04-CV-123, 2006 WL 1686568, at *3 (S.D.Miss. June 19, 2006) ("the [sworn] financial statement shall be held and maintained as private by the Defendant and the Defendant's attorney until such time as the court rules that punitive damages are an appropriate subject for the jury's consideration") with Smith v. Schmidt & McGarland Firm, No. 3:06-CV-25, 2008 WL 1716646, at *1 n.1 (N.D. Miss. Apr. 9, 2008) ("It is logical that plaintiff's counsel should have some idea of the nature and extent of the net worth of the defendants going into the trial; moreover, if the documentation presented is deficient, plaintiff's counsel should have the means to correct that before trial.").

A recent decision from Judge Anderson collected and discussed the competing decisions in this State, District, and Circuit. "Each side has valid arguments for its position, and the rulings have been inconsistent throughout the courts, " she wrote. Regions Ins., Inc. v. Alliant Ins. Servs., Inc., No. 3:13-CV-667, 2015 WL 1886852, at *5 (S.D.Miss. Apr. 24, 2015). Despite the inconsistency, a pattern did emerge in the cases: "A review of the rulings by magistrate judges and district judges throughout the Fifth Circuit reveals that the majority of those opinions allow net worth discovery during the discovery period." Id.

The Court is inclined to follow suit, and finds Judge Alexander's reasons in Smith to be persuasive. The plaintiffs should have an idea of Robinson's net worth and sufficient time to examine Robinson's documentation for deficiencies. Defense counsel shall produce net worth information to plaintiffs' counsel by the beginning of trial. Net worth information shall be subject to an appropriate protective order.

The second sub-issue is whether the plaintiffs may call Robinson's in-house attorney and CFO to testify about the net worth information during a punitive damages phase. The disclosure of sworn net worth information should eliminate the need for a witness on this subject. If not, Robinson may designate a non-attorney corporate representative to speak on net worth. As long as that person is available, the plaintiffs will not be permitted to elicit testimony from Goetz.

The motion is granted in part and denied in part.

II. Plaintiffs' Motion to Exclude Douglas Tompkins [221]

The plaintiffs argue that Robinson's Chief Pilot Douglas Tompkins should be prevented from testifying at trial because he will present cumulative testimony and testimony which is not helpful to the trier of fact.

The Court has already disallowed the presentation of cumulative testimony. In finding Tompkins' testimony admissible under Daubert, it specifically found that Tompkins' second and third opinions may turn out to be cumulative of Robinson's other experts. Docket No. 209, at 13. But it is up to Robinson to determine which experts it wants to put on for which opinions. ...


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