Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
Case Name: Pansini v. Trane Co.
Citation: 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46749
The plaintiffs purchased an HVAC system from the defendants. The defendants performed a faulty installation of the HVAC system in the plaintiffs’ home, and the plaintiffs filed this action in response. After the defendants made a motion for summary judgment, the plaintiffs submitted an untimely report by their HVAC expert witness to support their case.
The HVAC Expert
The plaintiffs’ HVAC expert witness was a professional engineer and registered architect who specialized in HVAC work. He held a degree in mechanical engineering with special focus on structural and mechanical engineering. He also held an MBA with a specialization in organizational behavior, computer systems, and marketing management.
The expert founded an engineering and architecture consultancy firm that specialized in HVAC, mechanical, and structural services for commercial and industrial properties. The HVAC expert witness served as CEO and president of the organization at the time of this matter. Prior to this role, the expert served as the president of a building performance consultancy that specialized in providing indoor environmental quality in buildings and homes for little or no energy cost with the help of sustainable and high-efficiency HVAC systems. The HVAC expert also had experience teaching university classes in occupational safety, hazardous waste generation, handling, and remediation.
The court noted that the plaintiffs failed to request an extension to file their expert witness report, despite having ample opportunities to do so. This was despite the fact that they had earlier sought an extension in the summary judgment issue, thus showing that they knew how to seek for one. The plaintiffs’ expert inspected the HVAC system after the deadline for filing an expert report. This meant that the plaintiffs knew the report would be submitted late and chose not to seek an extension.
The court accepted that the plaintiffs suffered some unfortunate personal problems, but expressed that the plaintiffs’ failure to request an extension was not justified.
The court said that since the HVAC expert witness was the only expert testifying on behalf of the plaintiffs on the nature of the alleged defects in the HVAC system in question, that his testimony was crucial to their case. Furthermore, its exclusion would be an extreme sanction resulting in dismissal and is as such disfavored, noting that “[t]o establish a defect, the plaintiffs must show: “(1) that the product malfunctioned; (2) that plaintiffs used the product as intended or reasonably expected by the manufacturer; and (3) the absence of other reasonable secondary causes,” citing Altronics of Bethlehem v. Repco, Inc. 957 F.2d 1102, 1105 (3d Cir. 1992).
The court was of the opinion that even though an untimely submission of the expert’s report would prejudice the defendants’ ability to depose the expert, find their own rebuttal expert, or mount a Daubert challenge against the HVAC expert’s opinion, there was no need to summarily exclude the report because there was no evidence of mala fide intention on the part of the plaintiffs.
The court went on to note that “this prejudice is one that is within [the court’s] power to cure by granting [the defendants] additional time within which to respond in full to the [expert’s report], depose [the expert], or obtain [their] own expert,” citing Ciocca, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90067, at *11-13.
The court admitted the expert report, giving the defendants time to reasonably prepare their counsel for deposition, hire their own HVAC expert witnesses, and submit a rebuttal report. The court also allowed the defendants to file supplemented motions for Daubert and/or summary judgment following up on this new discovery.