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New York Appellate Court Says Fuel Nozzle Manufacturer and Gas Station Owner Should Have Been Granted Summary Judgment in Fueling Accident Case

A Syracuse personal injury lawsuit may involve one defendant or multiple defendants. Likewise, a single theory of liability may be asserted, or multiple theories may be included in the plaintiff’s complaint for damages.

The more defendants and the more theories of liability, the more likely it is that some of the claims against the defendant(s) will be dismissed prior to trial. Typically, this is done through the summary judgment process. A party who is aggrieved by a trial court’s decision on a motion for summary judgment may opt to ask an appellate court to review the matter.

Facts of the Case

In a recently decided appellate court decision, the plaintiff was a limousine company employee who was driving a bus made by the defendant bus manufacturer when, in 2012, she stopped at a gas station owned by the defendant gas station owner to refuel. According to the plaintiff, she put the nozzle of the pump into the bus’s fuel tank, engaged the hold-open clip on the nozzle, and waited while the bus refueled. When fuel began to spill out, she disengaged the clip, stopped the flow of fuel, and waited for the pressure to subside. When she removed the nozzle about 20 or 30 seconds later, fuel ejected from the tank and into her eyes, as well as onto her face and body.

The plaintiff filed suit against the manufacturer of the bus, the manufacturer of the nozzle, and the gas station owner, seeking to recover monetary compensation for her personal injuries. The manufacture of the nozzle and the gas station owner sought dismissal of the claims against them on summary judgment. The Supreme Court of Onondaga County denied the defendants’ motion.

Decision of the Court

The Supreme Court of the State of New York, Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department reversed the trial court’s decision, granted the nozzle manufacturer and gas station owner’s motions for summary judgment, and dismissed the plaintiff’s claims against them. According to the court, the manufacturer of the nozzle was entitled to summary judgment because it met its initial burden of establishing that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law insomuch as it had submitted evidence to the effect that its product was not defective. This evidence came in form of an expert affidavit and the deposition testimony of its president. Once the defendant submitted this evidence, the burden shifted to the plaintiff to show a specific flaw¬† in the nozzle and/or circumstantial evidence regarding the performance of the product. Although the bus manufacturer submitted certain evidence regarding alleged defects in the nozzle, this evidence¬† failed to raise a triable issue of fact.

With regard to the gas station owner, the appellate court agreed that the complaint against it should have been dismissed on summary judgment. The plaintiff’s action against the station owner was based on a premises liability theory only, and the defendant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because it had demonstrated that it did not create – nor did it have notice of (either actual or constructive) – a dangerous condition on its premises. In so holding, the court acknowledged that the station owner hired an outside vendor to regularly inspect and service its fuel pumps and this vendor had determined that the pumps were in proper working condition both before and after the plaintiff’s accident.

Get Advice About a Personal Injury Case

If you have been hurt by another’s negligent failure to maintain their premises or by an unreasonably dangerous or defective product, please call the Syracuse personal injury attorneys of DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP at 315-479-9000 for a free case evaluation.

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