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Zamora v. Champion Cooler Corp.

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas

January 23, 2018

LUIS ZAMORA, Appellant

         On Appeal from the County Court at Law No. 2 Grayson County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 2013-2-063CV

          Before Justices Bridges, Myers, and Schenck



         Luis Zamora appeals the trial court's judgment dismissing his claims against Champion Cooler Corporation. Zamora brings two issues on appeal contending the trial court erred (1) by excluding his expert witness on causation, denying his motion for a continuance of the trial, and denying him leave to designate a new causation expert; and (2) by granting appellee's motion for summary judgment. We affirm the trial court's judgment.


         Zamora worked for appellee as an apprentice welder and metal cutter. On August 16, 2012, appellee directed Zamora to help cut a metal plate and fit it over a pit where a press machine once stood. The pit contained grease, oil, moisture, and debris. Zamora used an oxy-acetylene torch over the pit to cut the plate, and the torch vaporized some of the material in the pit. Zamora inhaled the vapors, after which he had difficulty breathing. Zamora went to his doctor, who determined he had pneumonia. Later, Zamora went to a pulmonologist, Dr. Muqad Zuriqat, who determined Zamora either had asthma, or he had reactive airway dysfunction syndrome (RADS) from the workplace fumes. After being off work for a month, Zamora was about eighty percent improved. However, he continued to have breathing issues while he worked for appellee, and he eventually quit working for appellee because he was too sick to continue working there.

         Zamora sued appellee, who was a workers' compensation nonsubscriber, for negligence seeking actual and exemplary damages. Appellee filed no-evidence and traditional motions for summary judgment, which the trial court initially denied. Appellee later moved to exclude the evidence of Zamora's expert witness on causation, Dr. Zuriqat. The trial court granted the motion and ordered that Zamora was barred from presenting Dr. Zuriqat's testimony regarding causation of Zamora's injuries. Appellee then moved for the trial court to reconsider appellee's motions for summary judgment. Zamora moved for a continuance of the trial date and for leave to designate a new expert witness on causation. The trial court denied Zamora's motion and granted appellee's motions for summary judgment, dismissing Zamora's claims.


         In his first issue, Zamora contends the trial court erred by (a) granting appellee's motion to exclude Dr. Zuriqat's testimony on causation, and (b) denying Zamora's motion for a continuance of the trial and for leave to designate a new causation expert.

         Standard of Review

         We review a trial court's decision to exclude expert-witness testimony for an abuse of discretion. Spin Doctor Golf, Inc. v. Paymentech, L.P., 296 S.W.3d 354, 359 (Tex. App.- Dallas 2009, pet. denied). A trial court abuses its discretion when its ruling is arbitrary, unreasonable, or without reference to any guiding rules or legal principles. Bocquet v. Herring, 972 S.W.2d 19, 21 (Tex. 1998).

         For an expert's opinion to be admissible under Texas Rule of Evidence 702, the expert must be qualified, and the expert's opinion must be relevant to the issues in the case and based upon a reliable foundation. Tex. R. Evid. 702; Exxon Pipeline Co. v. Zwahr, 88 S.W.3d 623, 629 (Tex. 2002); Gammill v. Jack Williams Chevrolet, Inc., 972 S.W.2d 713, 720 (Tex. 1998); E.I. duPont & de Nemours & Co. v. Robinson, 923 S.W.2d 549, 556 (Tex. 1995). The relevance requirement, which incorporates traditional relevancy analysis under Texas Rules of Evidence 401 and 402, is met if the expert testimony is "sufficiently tied to the facts of the case that it will aid the jury in resolving a factual dispute." Robinson, 923 S.W.2d at 556 (quoting United States v. Downing, 753 F.2d 1224, 1242 (3rd Cir. 1985)). Evidence that has no relationship to any issue in the case does not satisfy rule 702 and is thus inadmissible under rule 702, as well as rules 401 and 402. Id.

         Rule 702's reliability requirement focuses on principles, research, and methodology underlying an expert's conclusions. Id. at 557. Under this requirement, expert testimony is unreliable if it is not grounded "in the methods and procedures of science" and is no more than "subjective belief or unsupported speculation." Id. (quoting Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 590 (1993)). Expert testimony is also unreliable if there is too great an analytical gap between the data the expert relies upon and the opinion offered. Gammill, 972 S.W.2d at 727. In applying this reliability standard, however, the trial court does not decide whether the expert's conclusions are correct; instead, the trial court determines whether the analysis used to reach those conclusions is reliable. Id. at 728.

         When an expert is challenged, the proponent of the expert opinion must prove the reliability of each opinion. Mack Trucks, Inc. v. Tamez, 206 S.W.3d 572, 578 (Tex. 2006). The proponent bears this burden "regardless of the quality or quantity of the opposing party's evidence on the issue and regardless of whether the opposing party attempts to conclusively prove the expert testimony is wrong." Whirlpool v. Camacho, 298 S.W.3d 631, 639 (Tex. 2009). This burden includes ensuring that the expert's testimony contains no internal inconsistencies. See Gen. Motors Corp. v. Iracheta, 161 S.W.2d 462, 470-72 (Tex. 2005).

         The trial court serves as a gatekeeper to screen out irrelevant and unreliable expert evidence. Zwahr, 88 S.W.3d at 629. The trial court has broad discretion to determine the admissibility of evidence, and we review the trial court's decision under an abuse of discretion standard. Id. A trial court abuses its discretion when it acts without regard to any guiding rules or principles. Downer v. Aquamarine Operators, Inc.,701 S.W.2d 238, 241-42 (Tex. 1985). Whether a trial court abused its ...

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