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January 29, 2008

New York Court to Decide Defendant's Burden of Proof for Summary Judgment on "Defect" Question

The New York Court of Appeals will hear arguments in February in Ramos v. Howard Industries, Inc., to consider a manufacturer's burden of proof to establish in a motion for summary judgment that its product was not flawed or defectively designed in a case where the allegedly defective product was not available for examination.  The plaintiff in the case, a lineman for Niagara Mohawk Power Corp., allegedly sustained injuries when a transformer the defendant designed and manufactured exploded.  The plaintiff initially claimed that his injuries occurred when he reached out of an aerial bucket while installing the transformer on a utility pole, but later alleged that his injuries were the result of a transformer explosion.  The transformer could not be located for inspecting or testing to determine the cause of its failure.  The supreme court denied the defendant's motion for summary judgment and the appellate division affirmed.  831 N.Y.S.2d 615 (App. Div. 2007). In affirming the court noted that the defendant had "the burden of establishing as a matter of law that there was no defect in the design or manufacture  of the transformer," and that the defendant cannot meet that burden simply by pointing to gaps in the plaintiff's proof.  The defendant submitted evidence establishing that its transformers were designed according to Niagara Mohawk's specifications and under state of the art conditions, and that the transformer in question would have been individually tested to determine if it complied with customer specifications and industry standards.  The court concluded that the evidence did "not establish as a matter of law that the transformer was not defective and that a manufacturing defect therefore did not cause the explosion."  Judge Peradotto dissented, concluding that the defendant's evidence was sufficient to support its motion.  In his view, "a defendant in a manufacturing defect case in which the product is unavailable for inspection and testing must establish as a matter of law that it may be inferred from the evidence that the product was not defective when it left the defendant's control and that there are other possible causes of the accident not attributable to the defendant."  He thought the standard was met, given the defendant's evidence of quality control and of other potential causes, including rewiring of the transformer after it left the defendant's hands, and the possibility that the transformer had been rebuilt.  That evidence, coupled with a lack of rebuttal evidence by the plaintiff, justified granting the motion, according to Judge Peradotto.

MKS

January 29, 2008 | Permalink

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