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Metlife Auto & Home and Metropolitan v. Broan-Nutone

August 23, 2011

METLIFE AUTO & HOME AND METROPOLITAN PROPERTY AND CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BROAN-NUTONE, LLC; JAKEL MOTORS INCORPORATED; AND REGAL-BELOIT CORPORATION, DEFENDANS.



MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Plaintiffs Metlife Auto & Home and Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Company, as subrogees of Steven and Cathy Barber, brought this action against defendants Broan-Nutone, LLC and Jakel Motors Incorporated, asserting claims for breach of warranty, negligence, and product liability. (See Compl., Dkt. No. 1:2.) Pending is defendants' motion to preclude plaintiffs' expert witnesses, for sanctions based on spoliation, and for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 42.) For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion to preclude is denied, for sanctions is denied, and for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

II. Background

On September 12, 2005, a fire occurred at the home of Steven and Cathy Barber located at 59 Columbine Drive, Glenmont, New York. (See Defs. SMF ¶ 6, Dkt. No. 42:4.) Installed in the second floor bathroom of the Barber's home was a model 668RP fan/light, which was manufactured by defendant Broan-Nutone, LLC. (See id. at ¶ 8.) Contained within the fan/light was a J238-063-6404 model motor (6404 motor), which was designed, manufactured, and assembled by defendant Jakel Motors Incorporated. (See id. at ¶ 10.)

On the morning of the fire, at approximately 6:45, Nicholas, the Barbers' son, used the second floor bathroom and mistakenly left the fan/light in the "on" position when he left for school. (See Defs. SMF ¶ 29, Dkt. No. 42:4; Pls. Resp. SMF ¶ 29, Dkt. No. 65; Coffey Aff., Ex. C, Incident Report at 2, Dkt. No. 57:3.) Later, at approximately 7:30 a.m., with no one home at the Barber house, one of the Barber's neighbors saw smoke coming from the house and called 911. (See Defs. SMF ¶ 45, Dkt. No. 42:4.) Another of the Barber's neighbors, Terry Hannigan, a volunteer fireman, heard the 911 dispatch over his pager. (See id. at ¶ 35.) Seeing the smoke from his bedroom window, Hannigan ran across the street and entered the Barber's home, eventually making his way to the second floor. (See id. at ¶¶ 37-39.) Looking into Nicholas's bathroom, Hannigan saw a light haze of smoke but no flames. (See id. at ¶ 41.) Hannigan also testified to hearing the sound of "the fire crackling, like wood burning," and to observing "flaky, light material falling down to the bathroom floor from the ceiling of the bathroom." (Id. at ¶¶ 41, 42.) Hannigan then went downstairs, out the front door, and walked around the house, where he observed flames coming out of the soffit and going around the eaves of the roof in the area above Nicholas's bathroom. (See id. at ¶ 43.) Upon arriving at the scene, firefighters put out the fire. (See id. at ¶ 47.)

Once the fire was suppressed, the Town of Bethlehem began investigating its origin and cause. (See Pls. Resp. SMF ¶ 225, Dkt. No. 65:1.) Investigators ultimately concluded that the fire "started in the light/fan in [Nicholas's] bathroom," and that it was an "electrical fire due to a malfunctioning light/fan in the bathroom." (Coffey Aff., Ex. C, New York State Incident Report at 2, Dkt. No. 57:3.)

After the Barbers submitted a claim under their homeowners insurance policy, plaintiffs retained Joseph Myers, a certified New York State Level II fire investigator, to conduct an origin and cause investigation. (See Defs. SMF ¶¶ 73, 76, Dkt. No. 42:4.) Myers's investigation included conducting interviews and two scene inspections, one on September 14, 2005, and the other on September 30, 2005. (See Pls. Resp. SMF ¶ 225, Dkt. No. 65:1.) Based on his investigation, Myers concluded that the fire originated at the fan/light in Nicholas's bathroom. (See id. at ¶ 355.) Plaintiffs' also hired electrician Thomas Conlan as an electrical expert on product liability to inspect the scene and examine the light/fan. (See id. at ¶ 111.) Based on his investigation, Conlan concluded that the fire was the result of an internal assembly defect in the fan/light's motor. (See id. at ¶¶ 99-174.)

On September 5, 2008, plaintiffs, as subrogees of the Barbers, commenced this action against defendants in New York State Supreme Court, alleging that the fan/light in Nicholas's bathroom was the cause of the September 12, 2005 fire. (See Dkt. No. 1:2.) Plaintiffs asserted claims for breach of warranty, negligence, and product liability. (See id.)

On October 13, 2008, defendants removed the case to this court based on its diversity jurisdiction. (See Dkt. No. 1.) Following discovery, defendants moved to preclude plaintiffs' expert witnesses and for summary judgment on plaintiffs' claims. (Dkt. No. 42:2.)

III. Standard of Review

The standard for the grant of summary judgment is well established and will not be repeated here. For a full discussion of the standard, the court refers the parties to its previous opinion in Bain v. Town of Argyle, 499 F. Supp. 2d 192, 194-95 (N.D.N.Y. 2007).

IV. Discussion

A. Preclusion of Experts

Defendants seek to preclude the expert testimony of Joseph Myers and Thomas Conlan, arguing that Myers and Conlan "lack the qualifications and necessary foundation to render opinions as to any alleged assembly or manufacturing defect in the ...


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