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Automobile Ins. Co. of Hartford, Ct. A/S/O Jay Weinstein and Ellyn v. Asko Appliances

September 21, 2011

AUTOMOBILE INS. CO. OF HARTFORD, CT. A/S/O JAY WEINSTEIN AND ELLYN WEINSTEIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ASKO APPLIANCES, INC. F/K/A AM APPLIANCE GROUP, INC. AND ASKO APPLIANCES AB F/K/A ASKO CYLINDA AB, DEFENDANTS. ASKO APPLIANCES, AB F/K/A ASKO CYLINDA AB, THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF,
v.
ELTEK S.P.A., THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Seybert, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiff Automobile Insurance Company of Hartford, Connecticut ("Plaintiff") sued Defendants and Third-Party Plaintiffs ASKO Appliances, Inc. ("ASKO Inc.") and ASKO Appliances AB ("ASKO AB") (collectively, the "ASKO Defendants") for negligence, strict products liability and breach of contract in a case arising out of a house fire allegedly caused by an ASKO dishwasher. The ASKO Defendants, in turn, asserted third-party claims against Third-Party Defendant Eltek S.p.A. ("Eltek"). Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment on the liability portions of its negligence and strict products liability claims against the ASKO Defendants. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

Jay and Ellyn Weinstein (the "Weinsteins") owned two ASKO dishwashers in their home in Woodmere, New York. During the early morning hours of January 1, 2007, a fire originated in an ASKO dishwasher with the serial number 980200281461 (the "Subject Dishwasher"), causing $130,066.37 worth of damage to the Weinsteins' home. (Compl. ¶ 17.) ASKO AB manufactured the Subject Dishwasher in Sweden, and ASKO US imported it to the United States, where it was sold to the Weinsteins through a distribution company that is not involved in this lawsuit. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 9.) The Subject Dishwasher included a wax motor manufactured by Third-Party Defendant Eltek. (Id. ¶ 17.)

As part of an investigation into the cause of the fire, ASKO US hired an expert named Donald Galler to examine the Subject Dishwasher. Among other things, he concluded that:

The origin of the fire is uniquely associated with the incident dishwasher. During prior examinations we observed and reported unique physical evidence associated with the unit's wax motor that could account for the spread patterns from the appliance. As a result of this examination we have been able to identify that the failure scenario resulting in this fire is associated with the failure of the wax motor. The wax motor failure may be related to model-dependent issues and clues to this may be found by pursuing the apparent labeling problem discussed in items 10 and 11 of this report.

(Galler Report, Schultz Aff. Ex. D at 2.) An investigator who conducted an origin and cause investigation also concluded that the fire started near the Subject Dishwasher's control panel (Wisniewski Aff. ¶ 10), and an engineer who participated in three inspections concluded, among other things, that:

(1) the fire originated within the front door of the Subject Dishwasher;

(2) the fire was caused by electrical arcing within the Eltek wax motor; and (3) a fire within the Subject Dishwasher's door would be able to escape by burning through the plastic front panel and the latch area. (Sleights Aff. ¶ 9.)

Plaintiff's brief describes documentary evidence illustrating that the ASKO Defendants were aware as early as 2000 that Eltek's wax motor could short circuit. (See Shultz Aff. Ex. N.) This evidence is largely undisputed. (See Docket Entry 75, ASKO Inc. Aff. in Opp. ¶ 3; ASKO AB Opp. 1.) Among that evidence is an October 27, 2006 letter from ASKO Inc. to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (the "CPSC") in which ASKO Inc. admits to receiving "sporadic" reports of fires "allegedly occurring in the control panel" of its dishwashers. (Timothy Mullin Oct. 27, 2006 Ltr. at 3-4, Schultz Aff. Ex. I.)

DISCUSSION

After discussing the applicable legal standard, the Court considers Plaintiff's strict products liability claim and then briefly addresses its negligence claim.

I. Legal Standard on a Motion for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is only appropriate where the moving party can demonstrate that there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact" and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). In considering this question, the Court considers "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together any other firsthand information including but not limited to affidavits." Nnebe v. Daus, __ F.3d __, 2011 WL 2149924, at *6 (2d Cir. May 31, 2011); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 273 (1986); McLee v. Chrysler Corp., 109 F.3d 130, 134 (2d Cir. 1997); see also FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). "In assessing the record to determine whether there is a genuine issue to be tried . . . the court is required to resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought." McLee, 109 F.3d at 134. The burden of proving that there is no genuine issue of material fact rests with the moving party. Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., L.P., 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994) (citing Heyman v. Com. & Indus. Ins. Co., 524 F.2d 1317, 1320 (2d Cir. 1975)). Once that burden is met, the non-moving party must "come forward with specific facts," LaBounty v. Coughlin, 137 F.3d 68, 73 (2d Cir. 1998), to demonstrate that "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury ...


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