Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.


August 29, 2001


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Constance Baker Motley, U.S.D.J.


Plaintiffs Scott and Patricia Hutton sued defendants Dresser Equipment Group (incorrectly sued as Dresser Wayne Petroleum and Dresser Industries, Inc.) ("Dresser") and Globe Hoist Co. ("Globe"), for damages incurred when a car fell from a lift, manufactured by defendants, on plaintiff Scott Hutton, crushing him. The case was initially filed in New York State Court and was removed to this court on December 1, 1999. On April 16, 2001, defendant Dresser filed the instant motion for summary judgment.

The complaint alleges several theories of liability.*fn1 However, plaintiffs state in their memorandum of law in opposition to Dresser's motion for summary judgment that the only theory of liability they are pursuing is the failure to warn claim. As set forth below, because plaintiffs have failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Dresser had a duty to warn of the dangers associated with the lift in question, Dresser's motion for summary judgment is granted.

I. Facts

Scott Hutton was a mechanic at the Roe Park Service Station (the "Station") in Peekskill, New York where the accident occurred. The Station uses a hydraulic vehicle lift consisting of a hydraulic cylinder, out of which rises a metal pillar. Movable arms, with pads attached to the ends, extend perpendicular to the pillar. The operator of the lift positions the pads under the vehicle to be lifted. As the vehicle is raised, it is supported upon the pads. The Station purchased the lift in 1957. The lift was manufactured by defendant Globe. Defendant Globe no longer exists. Dresser acquired all of Globe's assets and liabilities in 1965. Dresser continued to manufacture identical and/or similar single-post lifts until 1992, when it sold the assets of Globe. By the terms of the 1992 asset transfer, Dresser retained all liability for claims accruing prior to the transfer.*fn2

On January 29, 1999, Hutton and another mechanic, Robert Grant, were servicing a 1987 Nissan Stanza with a starter problem (the "Stanza"). Grant and the manager of the Station, Michael Hines, moved the Stanza over the lift. Grant then positioned the lift arms and pads under the Stanza and raised it slightly to check the balance of the car. The Stanza appeared to be properly balanced, so Grant raised the Stanza to the lift's full height. Hutton then began to work under the car with Grant. As Hutton pulled the starter cable located near the front of the Stanza, Grant felt the Stanza move forward. Grant stepped out from underneath the Stanza and screamed that the car was moving. Hutton attempted to run away from the Stanza, towards the front of the car and the wall of the garage. The Stanza fell forward and landed on Hutton's body.

Grant, a mechanic of thirty years, has testified that he properly loaded the Stanza. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") inspected the lift and found that failure of the lift was not the cause of the accident. The Station resumed using the lift and has continued to use the lift on a daily basis without incident.

Plaintiffs have submitted evidence going to two possible warnings they claim would have prevented Hutton's accident. First, plaintiffs have submitted a pamphlet entitled "Lifting it Right," prepared by the Automotive Lift Institute ("ALI"). The pamphlet provides, inter alia, instructions for evasive action to be taken by a person working under a car in the event of the car falling off the lift. In particular, the pamphlet instructs the mechanic to "[r]un in the opposite direction of the fall, but not toward the wall, workbench, or other area that might trap you between that object and the car." Dresser, a member of ALI, distributed the pamphlet to purchasers of new lifts after 1987 but did not distribute the pamphlet to prior purchasers. Second, plaintiffs have submitted the report of a safety expert, William Brogan, stating that a person working under a car should run toward the center post of the hydraulic lift to avoid a falling car.

Finally, plaintiffs contend that, based upon, inter alia, Dresser's experience and participation in ALI, Dresser was aware that there was a particular danger of a front-heavy vehicle slipping off of the kind of lift in question. Plaintiffs have submitted sales literature and installation manuals from Dresser, not passed on to Dresser's customers, which indicate that the lift should not be used to lift vans and trucks. The Stanza was not a van or a truck. However, it was a front-wheel drive with most of the weight placed in the front of the vehicle, as is the case with vans and trucks. At the time the lift was manufactured, most cars had the weight evenly distributed throughout the frame. Grant, the mechanic who loaded the Stanza, has testified in deposition that he was aware that the Stanza was a front-wheel drive car with most of the weight distributed towards the front. Grant further testified that he was aware that front-heavy vehicles needed to be positioned differently on the lift, knew the proper techniques for positioning such vehicles and, indeed, properly positioned the Stanza.

II. Discussion

Plaintiffs claim that a modern front-heavy car is more likely to fall off a lift than a car with the weight evenly distributed. Through its participation in ALI, plaintiff claims, Dresser became aware of the danger that modern cars might fall off the lift. Therefore, plaintiffs claim, Dresser should have provided a warning to operators of the lift informing them of the possibility that a car might fall off the lift and instructing them: (1) to run in the opposite direction of a fall; (2) not to run toward obstacles; and/or (3) to run towards the center post of the lift.*fn3

The standard for summary judgment is that "[u]ncertainty as to the true state of any material fact defeats the motion." Gibson v. Am. Broad. Corp. 892 F.2d 1128, 1132 (2d Cir. 1989). The movant must demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. If the movant carries this burden, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to produce concrete evidence sufficient to establish a genuine unresolved issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24 (1986); Dister v. Contimental Group. Inc., 859 F.2d 1108, 1114 (2d Cir. 1988). The court then must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant and give that party the benefit of all reasonable inferences from the evidence that can be drawn in that party's favor. See Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000). The court neither weighs evidence nor resolves material factual issues but only determines whether, after adequate discovery, any such issues remain unresolved because a reasonable factfinder could decide for either party. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc. 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986); Gibson, 892, F.2d at 1132. However, neither conclusory statements, conjecture, nor speculation suffice to defeat summary judgment. See Kulak v. City of New York 88 F.3d 63, 71 (2d Cir. 1996).

In New York, to survive a motion for summary judgment on a defective products claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that (1) the product is defective because it is not reasonably safe at the time it was manufactured and sold; (2) the product was used for a normal purpose; (3) the defect was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's injuries; (4) the plaintiff, by the exercise of reasonable care, would not have both discovered the defect and apprehended its danger, and (5) the plaintiff could not have otherwise avoided the injury by exercise of ordinary care. See Urena v. Biro Mfg. Co. 114 F.3d 359, 363 (2d Cir. 1997); Voss v. Black & Decker Mfg. Co. 450 N.E.2d 204, 206 (N.Y. 1983). A product may be defective because the manufacturer failed to provide adequate warnings regarding dangers associated with the product. See Fane v. Zimmer. Inc. 927 F.2d 124, 128 (2d Cir. 1991) (citing Voss, 450 N.E.2d at 206).

Dresser's motion for summary judgment is based on the theory that plaintiffs have not carried their burden in establishing that a failure to warn was a substantial factor in causing Hutton's injury. First, Dresser argues that the testimony of plaintiffs' expert, William Brogan, should be excluded because Brogan is not qualified and does not have an adequate basis for his opinions. Second, Dresser claims that, because the dangers resulting from a car falling off ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.