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New York Court Affirms Dismissal of Product Liability Lawsuit Involving Remote Control Boom Crane

In a Syracuse product liability lawsuit, the plaintiff may have multiple theories of liability – design defect, failure to warn, negligence, etc. Because several different entities in the supply chain may be held liable, these types of cases may have multiple defendants, as well.

Often, one or more defendants will seek to have the case dismissed as to them. Depending upon how the court rules on these motions, the case may proceed to trial against a single defendant or multiple defendants, or it may be dismissed entirely. The testimony of expert witnesses is often crucial in these cases, as the plaintiff must be able to show that there is enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs in a recent case were a man who was allegedly pinned and crushed due to a malfunctioning remote control device that was used to operate a boom crane. The plaintiff, joined by his wife, filed suit against several entities that they believed were responsible for the manufacturing, distribution, and sale of the device, asserting claims for strict liability and breach of warranty. After the man died in 2016, his wife continued the action both individually and as the administratrix of his estate, adding wrongful death and conscious pain and suffering causes of actions.

After the plaintiff’s various suits were consolidated and cross claims for indemnification were filed by some of the defendants, the manufacturing defendants moved for summary judgment both as to the plaintiff’s claims and the other defendants’ cross claims. The Supreme Court of Washington County summary judgment to the manufacturer, distributor, and seller, thereby dismissing the plaintiff’s second amended complaint and all cross claims against these defendants and dismissed most of the remaining motions and cross claims as academic.

The Court’s Decision

The New York Appellate Division, Third Department, affirmed the lower court’s order. While acknowledging that a party who is hurt by a defective product has the right to sue those in the distribution chain for their injuries, the court noted that recovery is only possible if the defect in question was a substantial factor in the injury (or death) upon which the plaintiff’s claims are based. In the case at bar, which was based on allegations that the defendants were liable in strict product liability for design defects in the remote control, the court noted that the burden of proof was on the plaintiff to show that the device was, in fact, unreasonably dangerous for its intended use.

In support of their request for summary judgment, the defendants relied upon expert affidavits from engineers who opined that the remote control system worked “flawlessly” and that the reason for the decedent’s death was that he knowingly stood within an area that the boom could reach and then leaned forward, inadvertently activating the remote (which was attached to his hip); in the experts’ opinion, the “dead man switch” advocated by the plaintiff would not have prevented the accident. The plaintiff admitted that the defendants’ evidence shifted the burden to her to show that there was a substantial likelihood of harm in the design of the device and that it was feasible for the defendants to design the product in a safer manner. Given the lack of elaboration in the opinion of the plaintiff’s expert on this issue in the face of multiple opposing opinions that dead man switches were not normally used in crane operations, the reviewing court agreed that summary judgment to the defendants was proper.

Contact a Product Liability Attorney

The product liability attorneys at DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP, can help if you or a loved one has been hurt by a dangerous or defective product, medical device, or prescription drug. To learn more about our services, call us at 315-479-9000 or use contact us through this website.

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