Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Another Pennsylvania Federal Court Questions Which Restatement to Utilize in Products Liabiity Case

In the recent United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania case of Westfield Insurance v. Detroit Diesel Corporation, No. 3:10-CV-100 (W.D. Pa. May 12, 2012 Gibson, J.), the Court addressed the Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment in a products liability case arising out of a tour bus fire that resulted in property damages to a band called Reliant K.  This case represents yet another matter in which a Pennsylvania Federal Court notes a lack of guidance with respect to which Restatement of Torts -- the Second or the Third -- to apply in products liability matters.

By way of background, in its Complaint, the Plaintiff, which was the insurance company as the van’s subrogee, alleged that a defective engine and/or related turbocharger caused the fire.  The Plaintiff sought recovery from the alleged designers, manufacturers, and distributors of the engine and its components under theories of strict product liability, negligence, and breach of warranty. 

In its decision, the Court ruled that, under the circumstances of this case, the Plaintiff was required to present expert evidence to support its claim that a defective bus engine and/or component turbocharger caused the fire in question.   The Court found that the expert evidence offered the Plaintiff was admissible despite the Defendants’ contention that such expert reports were inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and the Daubert standard.  

After reviewing the Plaintiff’s expert reports, the Court found that these reports fell well short of the reliability requirement of Federal Rule of Evidence 702 in that the Plaintiff’s experts’ reports amounted to a series of unsubstantiated conclusory statements not supported by any identifiable scientific methodology.   Accordingly, the Court elected to exclude the Plaintiff’s expert’s report as unreliable.  

Judge Gibson stated that, since the Plaintiff’s expert’s reports were excluded, the Plaintiff had not presented any expert testimony, as required, to support its claim that a defective engine and/or turbocharger caused the fire.   As such, the Court granted the Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment.

Judge Gibson went on to note that, even if the Plaintiff’s expert’s reports were not excluded, the Court would still grant summary judgment to the Defendants due to the admission of certain facts by the Plaintiff in the Motion for Summary Judgment proceedings.

The Court otherwise noted that the Plaintiff’s strict liability and negligence claims were deficient for failure to establish an essential element of both claims, that being that the product was defective.  In this regard, Judge Gibson stated that “[w]hether this Court applies the Second or Third Restatement of Torts, both require “Plaintiff to prove that the product was defective at the time it left the hands of Defendants.”

In this case, according to the Court, the Plaintiff only offered up a showing that the subject bus engine “failed” after 540,000, which was insufficient under either standard to establish the required element of showing that the product was defective.  

This case of Westfield v. Detroit Diesel Corporation represents another example of the continuing struggle of the federal courts over whether to apply the Second or Third Restatement of torts in Pennsylvania products liability cases.  

Anyone desiring a copy of this Opinion may click this LINK

I send thanks to Attorney James W. Scott, Jr., of the Philadelphia law office of Bodell Bove, LLC for bringing this case to my attention and providing a copy of the same. 

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