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Nelson v. Ranger

November 17, 2009

KEVIN NELSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RANGER, INC., DEFENDANT.
RANGER, INC., DEFENDANT/THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF,
v.
ALYNE TRUCKING, INC., THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION and ORDER

Currently pending before the Court in this products liability action filed by Kevin Nelson ("Plaintiff") is an amended motion for summary judgment filed by Ranger, Inc. ("Defendant") (Dkt. No. 33), a motion for summary judgment filed by Alyne Trucking, Inc. ("Third-Party Defendant") (Dkt. No. 32), a motion filed by Plaintiff to preclude the testimony of two of Defendant's experts (Dkt. No. 31), and a motion filed by Third-Party Defendant that Defendant's spoliation claim not be considered (Dkt. No. 50). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's amended motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part; the Third-Party Defendant's motion for summary judgment is denied; Plaintiff's motion to preclude the testimony of Defendant's experts is denied; and the Third-Party Defendant's motion that Defendant's spoliation claim not be considered is denied.

I. GENERAL FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On March 4, 2003, Plaintiff, a maintenance/repair man, was called to replace a gasket on a Ranger Series 22 pump that had been mounted on the underside of a truck trailer leased by Third-Party Defendant. While replacing the gasket, Plaintiff's clothing became entangled on the rotating power take off ("PTO") drive shaft at its connection to the Ranger Series 22 pump (hereinafter the "Pump"), thereby causing Plaintiff to sustain severe and serious injuries. More specifically, Plaintiff's clothing caught on a "set screw," which protruded above the surface of the universal joint ("u-joint"), which connected the Pump to the PTO.

Defendant manufactured the pump, as well as a section of the drive shaft known as the pump drive shaft. Defendant did not manufacture the PTO, the PTO drive shaft, or the u-joint used to connect the two drive shafts. In addition, Defendant did not in any way install or connect its pump and/or pump drive shaft to the u-joint. (Compare Dkt. No. 33, Part 1 [containing Def.'s Rule 7.1 Statement] with Dkt. No. 34 [Plf.'s Rule 7.1 Response].)

Familiarity with the remaining undisputed material facts of this action, as well as the disputed material facts, as set forth in the parties' Rule 7.1 Statement and Rule 7.1 Response, is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for review by the parties. (Id.)

II. SUMMARY OF PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS

On January 26, 2005, Plaintiff filed the current action. Liberally construed, Plaintiff's Complaint asserts that Defendant is liable for the injuries Plaintiff sustained on March 4, 2003, under the following theories: (1) breach of the implied warranty of fitness and merchantability; (2) negligence; and (3) strict liability. (Dkt. No. 1.) More specifically, Plaintiff alleges that he sustained injuries as a result of the negligent and defective design of a pump manufactured by Ranger. (Id.)

III. LEGAL STANDARD GOVERNING MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

In their motion papers, the parties demonstrated a sound understanding for the standard governing motions for summary judgment. As a result, and for the sake of brevity, the Court will not recite the well-known legal standard governing motions for summary judgment in this Decision and Order, but will direct the reader to the Court's recent decision in Pitts v. Onondaga County Sheriff's Dep't, 04-CV-0828, 2009 WL 3165551, at *2-3 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 29, 2009) (Suddaby, J.), which accurately recites that legal standard.

IV. ANALYSIS OF DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

A. Defendant's Duty to Plaintiff

As a threshold matter, a manufacturer must owe a duty to an individual injured by the manufacturer's product before the manufacturer can potentially incur liability for the injured party's injuries. See McCarthy v. Olin Corp., 119 F.3d 148, 170 (2d Cir. 1997) (Calabresi, J., dissenting) (noting that "[f]or either a strict products liability or negligent products liability claim, "a duty is needed; . . . that duty must be breached by the defendant's manufacture or sale of a defective product; . . . the plaintiff must suffer an injury; and . . . the defect must be the cause of the plaintiff's injury. These are not the elements of a cause of action in strict products liability. Those elements are much more specific, and depend on the theory of liability being asserted.").

Manufacturers of a product have a duty to market safe products. Dalton v. Stedman Machine Co., 05-CV-0452, 2008 WL 351676, at *4 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 7, 2008) (McAvoy, J.). This duty is owed, at a minimum, to all foreseeable users of the product. Liriano v. Hobart Corp., 132 F.3d 124, 126 (2d Cir. 1998) ("It is well-settled under New York law that a manufacturer is under a duty to use reasonable care in designing its product so that it will be safe when used in the manner for which the product was intended, as well as unintended yet reasonably foreseeable use."). As a result, Defendant owed Plaintiff a duty to manufacture a safe Pump.

B. Strict Products Liability Based Upon Design Defect

Under New York's strict product liability law, a manufacturer is liable to an injured party if

'(1) the product is defective because it is not reasonably safe as marketed; (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 discovered the defect and apprehended its injury; and (5) the plaintiff would not have otherwise avoided the injury by the exercise of ordinary care.'

Marshall v. Sheldahl, Inc., 150 F. Supp.2d 400, 403 (N.D.N.Y. 2001) (Kahn, J.) (quoting Urena v. Biro Mfg. Co., 114 F.3d 359, 363 [2d Cir. 1997]) (other citations omitted). "Essential to all these claims is that the plaintiff demonstrate that the product was defective and that the product's defect caused the plaintiff's injury." Yaccarino v. Motor Coach Indus., Inc., 03-CV-4527, 2006 WL 3257220, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 9, 2006) (citing Gilks v. Olay Co., Inc., 30 F. Supp.2d 438, 443 [S.D.N.Y. 1998] ["Whether the action is pleaded in strict products liability, breach ...


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