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Maltez v. Trepel Airport Equipment GMBH

United States District Court, S.D. Florida, Miami Division

November 30, 2017

ROY MALTEZ, Plaintiff,



         Defendant Trepel Airport Equipment GMBH moves to exclude under Daubert evidence and testimony of Plaintiff Roy Maltez9');">9;s expert, Linda A. Small. [ECF No. 41]. Maltez filed an opposition response. [ECF No. 44]. Trepel filed a reply. [ECF No. 49');">9]. After the parties consented to the Undersigned issuing final orders on dispositive pre-trial motions, United States District Judge Jose E. Martinez referred all pretrial matters to me. [ECF Nos. 21, p. 2; 26].

         For the reasons outlined below, the Undersigned grants in part and denies in part the Daubert motion. The Undersigned prohibits Small, an expert in aspects of the aviation industry, from opining at trial on whether Trepel breached its purchase and sale contract with American Airlines for a Challenger 700 aircraft tractor and from opining on how that contract should be interpreted. Small, however, is permitted to testify about whether the training Maltez received from a Trepel employee was adequate. Although Small9');">9;s opinions are hardly free from challenge, Trepel will be able to vigorously pursue those challenges through cross-examination.

         I. Factual Background

         Maltez, an American Airlines employee, was hurt while training on an aircraft pushback tractor called the Challenger 700, which Trepel manufactures and sold to American. The Challenger 700 weighs about 50 tons and is designed to push and tow the wide-body Boeing 777 aircraft along airport aprons and tarmacs. Maltez claims that Trepel9');">9;s trainer negligently conducted the training, causing him injury. Maltez also contends that tractor is not intended to transport persons or property.

         In 2013, American bought two Challenger 700s from Trepel for use at Miami International Airport. As part of this sale, Trepel agreed to provide “their own factory service engineer” to conduct “full maintenance and operational training free of charge.” Trepel further represented that the “services provided shall be performed by [qualified] and efficient employees.” The written agreement also provided that Trepel “shall be responsible for the direct supervision” of its employees, including the factory-service engineer. Trepel then provided a syllabus outlining course content for its trainer to follow, which is entitled: “Train the Trainer - Operator Trepel Model Challenger 700.”

         On December 18, 2013, a Trepel factory-service engineer from Germany named Sebastian Kraemer was at Miami International Airport to, among other things, conduct the “Train the Trainer” training for Challenger 700 operators. The trainees included Maltez and an American co-employee, Josue M. Perez. Kraemer is a mechanic by trade with no formal education, training, certifications, credentials, degrees, or diplomas pertaining to conducting training on the operation of airport ground-service equipment. Maltez points out that Trepel does not have any written policies, procedures, or manuals directing its trainers on how to conduct this type of training. According to the training syllabus that Trepel produced, the training was to last “4 HR ” and include “safety instructions for operation, ” “work with the Trepel Operator Manual, ” “classroom” training, and a “test drive.”

         On the afternoon of December 18th, Maltez and Perez attended training with Kraemer. Neither Maltez nor Perez had ever operated the Challenger 700 or even sat inside one before. Maltez and Perez testified that, contrary to the training syllabus, they were not given classroom training. Moreover, both testified that Kraemer did not review the Operator9');">9;s Manual with them or provide a “handout.” They say that, instead, Kraemer led them out to the airport apron, provided a brief overview of the Challenger 7009');">9;s features while sitting inside the tractor9');">9;s cab, and then had Perez drive the Challenger 700 from the apron to the tarmac.

         During that drive, Kraemer did not fasten his lap belt or insist or ensure that Maltez and Perez wore lap belts or demonstrate where the lap belts were located. The Challenger 700 does not have stickers or warning lights regarding lap belt usage. And one piece of the Challenger 7009');">9;s lap belts is capable of being “tucked” out of sight.

         Approximately 5 to 10 minutes into the test drive, Kraemer instructed Perez to bring the Challenger 700 to a complete stop near the maintenance hangar. Kraemer then pressed a button on the dashboard. The button disengaged the Challenger 7009');">9;s front end suspension, a fact unknown to Maltez or Perez. Next, Kraemer instructed Perez to drive over a depressed storm drain -- an uneven surface on the tarmac -- to perform what he termed an “unbalanced maneuver.” Because the front-end suspension was deactivated, the Challenger 700 bounced violently as it drove over the drain.

         According to Maltez, Kraemer knew that the Challenger 700 could bounce violently if driven over an uneven surface with the front-end suspension disengaged. Nevertheless, Kraemer did not warn his trainees nor insist that they fasten their lap belts before performing the “unbalanced maneuver.” As the Challenger 700 bounced, Maltez was thrown out of his seat and hit the cab9');">9;s roof, suffering injuries to his neck and aggravating a pre-existing back injury.

         Linda Small9');">9;s Expert Opinion

         Small has worked in the airline industry for more than 30 years. Since 2009');">9, she has worked for Delta Global Services as a Safety and Compliance Auditor for all ground-handling activities, including “Train the Trainer” training for the operation of pushback tractors. She currently serves or has served in that capacity for several airlines, including American Airlines. In addition, Small has worked as a “Hub General Manager” at John F. Kennedy International Airport, was “Station Manager” for Delta Air Lines in New Orleans and Gainesville, Florida; was “Assistant Station Manager” in Las Vegas and Seattle; and was the Vice President and part owner of Airways of New Mexico. In addition to domestic airports, Small has also managed an airport station in Panama City, Panama.

         In her current employment, Small supervises and oversees “Train the Trainer” training sessions involving ground-service equipment, including aircraft pushback tractors. In addition, she regularly conducts safety audits of these training sessions, and is authorized to correct and, when necessary, call for a “Safety Stop” when she observes unsafe training practices. Maltez contends that Small is intimately familiar with the qualifications that trainers must have, the trainer9');">9;s responsibilities to trainees during a training session, training procedures and protocol, and industry safety standards and regulatory compliance for training sessions.

         For its part, Trepel focuses on other aspects of Small9');">9;s background -- aspects relating to other aspects of the aviation industry. For example, according to Small9');">9;s C V, she is a “[s]enior executive and field operations manager with extensive experience in all aspects of airport customer service, ” and is a “specialist in assessing call center sales and productivity issues to provide high performing teams with revenue conversion skill sets.” [ECF No. 41-3, p. 8 (emphasis added)]. Before she was employed by GPE Aviation Consulting Group, Small was affiliated with Delta Airlines. She has never worked for American Airlines or Trepel. She has never operated a Trepel Challenger 700, and her updated CV does not expressly state that she conducts or supervises “Train the Trainer” training sessions for any type of aircraft tractor or tug.

         Small inspected American9');">9;s Challenger 700 (although Trepel says that it was not advised of her inspection at the time and has not been provided with any records concerning the inspection). Small also met with Maltez on April 11, 2017. Her opinions are in addition based on her review of the deposition transcripts (and exhibits) of Kraemer, Trepel9');">9;s Rule 30(b)(6) corporate representative, Maltez, and Perez. She also reviewed American9');">9;s contract with Trepel, the parties9');">9; written discovery responses, and Trepel-produced documents (including an incident report, training syllabus, the Challenger 7009');">9;s Operator9');">9;s Manual, and Trepel9');">9;s video demonstration of the “unbalanced maneuver”).

         Small9');">9;s “interim report” indicates that Trepel breached a contract provision by not providing a “qualified” trainer. Trepel notes that she provided this opinion even though the contract does not contain the term “trainer” or set forth qualification requirements.

         At trial, Small is expected to offer non-scientific, experience-based opinions and testimony applying the facts of this case to the industry-based safety requirements specific to conducting training on aircraft pushback tractors used on airport tarmacs and aprons. Small will offer opinions concerning: (1) the specific credentials and qualifications that trainers should have to train others on the use and operation of ground-service equipment, including pushback tractors like the Challenger 700; (2) the industry&#39');">9;s safety standards and regulatory requirements for training on the use and operation of aircraft ...

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