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Otto v. Newfield Exploration Co.

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

December 21, 2016

BRADLEY T. OTTO, as personal representative of the estate of Blaine P. Otto, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
NEWFIELD EXPLORATION COMPANY, and NEWFIELD PRODUCTION COMPANY, and NEWFIELD EXPLORATION MID-CONTINENT, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SUSAN P. WAITERS United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is a Motion to Strike filed by Defendants Newfield Exploration Company, Newfield Product Company, and Newfield Exploration Mid-Continent, Inc., (Newfield). (Doc. 35). Newfield asks the Court to strike Plaintiff Estate of Blain P. Otto's liability expert witnesses Edward R. Ziegler (Ziegler) and Dr. Tee L. Guidotti (Dr. Guidotti) under Federal Rule of Evidence 702. For the reasons discussed below, the Court DENIES Newfield's Motion to Strike.

         I. Background.

         Blaine Otto (Otto) was employed by a company that provided tank inspection services, among other things, to Newfield on a contract basis at various well sites in the Bakken Shale Oil Field. (Doc. 1). On July 18, 2013, Otto was found dead on the catwalk of an oil storage tank. (Doc. 1). Otto's estate filed suit, alleging Otto died of exposure to deadly vapors due to intentional, reckless, and/or negligent conduct by Newfield. (Doc. 1). Newfield disputes the cause of Otto's death and denies its conduct was intentional, reckless, or negligent. (Doc. 6). Otto's estate retained Dr. Guidotti and Ziegler as liability experts.

         Dr. Guidotti is a physician, qualified as a board-certified specialist in internal medicine, pulmonary medicine, and occupational medicine. (Doc. 36-1 at 1). He is also a retired professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the George Washington University Medical Center, where he was Chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health of the School of Public Health and Health Services and Director of the Division of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, Department of Medicine, School of Medicine and Health Services. (Doc. 36-1 at 1). He has worked with the oil and gas industry for over 35 years and is currently an international consultant. (Doc. 36-1 at 1).

         Dr. Guidotti's opinion is that Otto's death was caused by exposure to deadly vapors. (Doc. 36-1 at 8). Dr. Guidotti formulated his opinion after review of numerous documents and items of evidence, including the autopsy report, the OSHA fatality report, and information disclosed during discovery. (Doc. 36-1 at 1-2). Based on the evidence, Dr. Guidotti listed four possible causes of Otto's death: (1) inhalation of hydrocarbon vapors; (2) depleted oxygen levels due to displacement by hydrocarbon vapors; (3) inhalation of hydrogen sulfide; and (4) natural causes. (Doc. 36-1 at 3-4). Dr. Guidotti then proceeded to eliminate each cause based on its likelihood, concluding inhalation of hydrocarbon vapors was the most likely cause of Otto's death. (Doc. 36 at 3-8).

         Ziegler is a petroleum and natural gas engineer, a registered Professional Engineer, and a Certified Safety Professional. (Doc. 36-4 at 4). He is also trained as an OSHA 500 Program Instructor. (Doc. 36-4 at 4). Ziegler has worked in the oil and gas business for over 35 years. (Doc. 36-4 at 4).

         Ziegler's opinion is that Newfield's conduct was grossly below any industry standard. (Doc. 36-4 at 19). Ziegler formulated his opinion after review of numerous documents and pieces of evidence, including safety regulations, the OSHA file, and information disclosed during discovery. (Doc. 36-4 at 3).

         II. Law.

         Federal Rule of Evidence 702 governs the admissibility of expert testimony. It provides that a "witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise" if:

(a) the expert's scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;
(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;
(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and
(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the ...

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