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Calhoun v. Yamaha Motor Corp.

United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
350 F.3d 316 (2003)


Natalie Calhoun rented a jet ski manufactured by Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A. (Yamaha) (defendant). Natalie rode the jet ski at a high speed toward a boat. Natalie yelled, but did not steer away. Natalie crashed into the boat and was killed. An eyewitness said that Natalie appeared to be “scared stiff.” The jet ski had a squeeze-finger throttle, similar to a bicycle’s hand-brake system. The Calhouns (plaintiffs), Natalie’s parents, brought a design-defect suit against Yamaha, claiming that the throttle system was unreasonably dangerous. The Calhouns proffered the testimony of three expert witnesses. First, Dr. Edward Karnes testified that the throttle design was defective because people tended to clench their fists when in stressful situations. Karnes was a psychologist, but provided no evidence or tests supporting or demonstrating his theory. Second, Albert Burton testified that Yamaha’s throttle was less safe than other throttle designs on the market. Burton was a marine-safety expert and was very knowledgeable about jet skis. Burton, however, was not an engineer and was not experienced in jet-ski throttle design. Additionally, Burton did not provide scientific evidence evaluating the safety of various jet skis. Finally, Dr. Robert Warren testified that the throttle was unsafe because the throttle so closely resembled a bicycle brake. Warren was a marine engineer, but when he wrote his report on the throttle, he had never driven a jet ski. Warren also had not conducted tests on other throttles. The district court ruled that the testimony of all three experts was unreliable and thus inadmissible. The jury found in favor of Yamaha. The Calhouns appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Scirica, C.J.)

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