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Benjamin J. v. Jlg Industries

January 29, 2012

BENJAMIN J. GOSS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JLG INDUSTRIES, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge United States District Court

DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Benjamin J. Goss brings this diversity action claiming that Defendant JLG Industries, Inc. ("JLG") is liable under theories of negligence and strict liability for the design and manufacture of a JLG 2033E scissor lift rendered defective for allegedly failing to come equipped with a static strap. Presently before this Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Also before this Court is Defendant's Motion to Exclude Expert Testimony and Defendant's Motion to Exclude Heart Attack-Related Evidence.*fn1 For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in part and denied in part. Defendant's Motion to Exclude Expert Testimony is granted. Defendant's Motion to Exclude Heart Attack-Related Evidence is granted in part and denied in part.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Facts*fn2

Much of the relevant background is undisputed. Defendant is a Pennsylvania corporation with its principal place of business in the State of Pennsylvania. (Notice of Removal ¶ 10, Docket No. 1.) Defendant manufacturers and sells the JLG 2033E Scissor Lift, a self-propelled aerial work platform perched on top of an elevating "scissor" mechanism. (Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 9, Docket No. 24.) The machine is controlled by a primary operator control station in the platform, from which it can be driven and the platform raised and lowered. (Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 12.) The scissor lift can be equipped with a number of optional features, including special non-marking tires for indoor use designed not to leave black skid marks on floors or other surfaces. (Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 20.) When equipped with such tires the lift is also equipped with a "static strap." (Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 22.) This strap is attached to the underside of the machine to drag along the ground and relieve built-up static electricity by grounding the charge. (Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 23, 24.)

On November 18, 1998 JLG sold one of its scissor lifts, serial number 0200053715, to the Hertz Corporation ("Hertz") complete with the optional non-marking tires. (Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 1, 7, 25.) Hertz, in turn, sold the machine to Delphi Harrison Thermal Systems ("Delphi") on November 20, 1998. (Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 8.)

Plaintiff Benjamin J. Goss, an employee at Delphi and resident of New York, was operating the machine in question on February 10, 2006. (Notice of Removal ¶ 12; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 1.) Between 7:30 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. Plaintiff was on the machine's platform preparing to conduct routine maintenance work on an overheard door. (Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 91, 92.) Plaintiff drove the machine to the door and raised the platform approximately fifteen feet. (Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 96.) Plaintiff apparently then pulled a wrench out of his pocket. As he went to set it down on the platform floor he saw a bluish-yellowish arc with a flash and received an electrical shock created by static build-up. (Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 97, 100.) Plaintiff thereafter lowered the lift to ground level and got off the platform. (Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 99.)

Investigation following the accident revealed that the machine lacked a static strap. (Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 100.)

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff commenced this action on January 30, 2009 by filing a complaint in New York State Supreme Court, Erie County against JLG. (Docket No 1-2.) Plaintiff thereafter filed an amended complaint on February 6, 2009 adding R.B. U'Ren Equipment Rentals, Inc. ("U'Ren") and Overhead Door Corp. ("Overhead") as Defendants. (Docket No. 1-3.) A second amended complaint followed on May 18, 2009, asserting strict liability and negligence claims against JLG based on its manufacture and design of the JLG 2033E Scissor Lift. (Docket No. 1-8.) U'Ren was terminated as a party pursuant to a Stipulation of Discontinuance signed by the parties on January 13, 2010. (Docket No. 1-13.) The case was then removed to the United States District Court for the Western District of New York on January 25, 2010 on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. (Docket No. 1.) Overhead was terminated as a party on February 28, 2011 (Docket No. 22.) JLG filed the present Motion for Summary Judgment on March 29, 2011 (Docket No. 24), and on April 15, 2011 filed its Motion to Exclude Expert Testimony (Docket No. 29), and Motion to Exclude Heart Attack-Related Evidence (Docket No. 30). The parties' briefs were deemed submitted on May 26, 2011, at which time this Court took Defendant's motions under advisement without oral argument.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Motion for Summary Judgment

1. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56©. A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). An issue of material fact is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the evidence and the inferences drawn from the evidence must be "viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Addickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59, 90 S. Ct.1598, 1609, 26 L. Ed. 2d 142 (1970). "Only when reasonable minds could not differ as to the import of evidence is summary judgment proper." Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir. 1991). The function of the court is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. "Assessments of credibility and choices between conflicting versions of the events are matters for the jury, not for the court on summary judgment." Rule v. Brine, Inc., 85 F.3d 1002, 1011 (2d Cir. 1996).

But a "mere scintilla of evidence" in favor of the nonmoving party will not defeat summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. A nonmoving party must do more than cast a "metaphysical doubt" as to the material facts; it must "offer some hard evidence showing that its version of the events is not wholly fanciful." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986); D'Amico v. City of N.Y., 132 F.3d 145, 149 (2d Cir. 1998). That is, there must be evidence from which the jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

2. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment

Defendant's motion is premised on a single factual assertion, namely, that the scissor lift sold to Hertz, and then sold to Delphi, was equipped with a static strap at the time it left JLG's control and that only later was the strap removed. JLG variously characterizes this fact as constituting a subsequent modification, failure of proximate cause, or superseding cause relieving it of liability. JLG also argues that Plaintiff's failure to warn claim should be dismissed if this Court concurs with JLG's factual assessment, as well as on the independent ground that Plaintiff has not submitted expert testimony on this claim. Plaintiff disputes JLG's contention that the machine came with a static strap and reiterates his claim that JLG failed to adequately warn its customers, technicians, and lift operators of the need for a static strap.

"A product defect may consist of a mistake in manufacturing, an improper design, or inadequacy or absence of warnings for use of the product." State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Nutone, Inc., No. CV 05-4817, 2010 WL 3154853, at *6 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 9, 2010). Goss' Second Amended Complaint brings all ...


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