UNITED FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY v. WHIRLPOOL CORPORATION
ORDER granting 21 Motion for Summary Judgment for Defendant against Plaintiff. The clerk is directed to close the case. Signed by JUDGE RICHARD SMOAK on 9/22/2011. (jcw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
PANAMA CITY DIVISION
UNITED FIRE AND CASULATY COMPANY,
a/s/o Robert and Theresa Corral,
CASE NO. 5:10-cv-199/RS-EMT
a Delaware corporation,
Before me is Defendants‟ motion for summary judgment (Doc. 21).
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The basic issue before the court on a motion for summary judgment is
“whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a
jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2512 (1986).
The moving party has the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue as to
any material fact, and in deciding whether the movant has met this burden, the
court must view the movant‟s evidence and all factual inferences arising from it in
the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398
U.S. 144 (1970); Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993).
Thus, if reasonable minds could differ on the inferences arising from undisputed
facts, then a court should deny summary judgment. Miranda v. B & B Cash
Grocery Store, Inc., 975 F.2d 1518, 1534 (11th Cir. 1992) (citing Mercantile Bank
& Trust v. Fidelity & Deposit Co., 750 F.2d 838, 841 (11th Cir. 1985)). However,
a mere „scintilla‟ of evidence supporting the nonmoving party's position will not
suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the jury could reasonably find for
that party. Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251).
I accept the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. See Galvez v.
Bruce, 552 F.3d 1238, 1239 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Vinyard v. Wilson, 311 F.3d
1340, 1343 n.1 (11th Cir. 2002)). “ „All reasonable doubts about the facts should
be resolved in favor of the non-movant.‟ ” Id. (quoting Burton v. City of Belle
Glade, 178 F.3d 1175, 1187 (11th Cir. 1999); Clemons v. Dougherty County, 684
F.2d 1365, 1368-69 (11th Cir. 1982).
On June 30, 2008, around 8:00 pm, one of the children of Robert and
Theresa Corral placed a load of laundry in the dryer. The Corral family then went
to dinner, leaving the dryer on. At 9:57 pm, a fire in the Corral‟s house was
reported to the Jackson County Fire Department.
Plaintiff retained Mr. Raymond Arms as their Cause and Origin and
Electrical Engineering expert. Mr. Arms began his initial investigation the day
after the fire. He inspected the scene of the fire, focusing specifically on the
electrical wiring within the house, washer, and dryer. Believing that the dryer was
the source of the fire, Mr. Arms suspended his investigation until he could continue
with Defendant‟s Cause and Origin expert, Mr. Eric Jackson. On July 22, 2008,
they examined the scene and took the dryer for further investigation. The
examination of the dryer took place on September 24, 2008. Mr. Arms and
Jackson systematically dismantled the dryer. Mr. Arms concluded that a wire
sticking to the exhaust tube of the dryer was the source of the fire. According to
Mr. Arms, the wire touching the exhaust tube lead to excessive heat that caused the
dryer to ignite.
Plaintiff also retained Dr. Kendall Clarke as a metallurgist. Dr. Clarke was
hired to examine the metal exhaust tube and to estimate the temperatures that it
reached. From his examination, Dr. Clarke determined that the tube must have
reached at least 2800 degrees Fahrenheit, and for that to have happened, the dryer
must have been on at the time of ignition causing a forced draft.
Defendant‟s Cause and Origin expert, Mr. Jackson, concluded that there was
no evidence that the dryer malfunctioned. Additionally, Defendant‟s electrical
engineering expert, John Adams, stated that the “dryer was designed, tested, and
manufactured in accordance with Whirlpool Standards and the Underwriters
Laboratory Standard for Electric dryers.” (Doc. 22, p. 4).
Plaintiff brought this product liability suit against Defendant claiming a
manufacturing defect in the dryer in state court, which was later removed.
Defendant now moves for summary judgment.
An order has already been entered striking the testimony of Plaintiff‟s
experts (Doc. 31). Defendant contends it is entitled to summary judgment because
without the experts‟ testimony, Plaintiff cannot prove that a manufacturing defect
existed in the dryer. “Under Florida law, a strict product liability action required
the plaintiff to prove that (1) a product (2) produced by a manufacturer (3) was
defective or created an unreasonably dangerous condition (4) that proximately
caused (5) injury.” McCorvey v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 298 F.3d 1253, 1258
(11th Cir. 2002). Plaintiff must “offer proof of both general causation—that the
device in question can cause harm of the type [Plaintiff] alleges—and proof of
specific causation—that the device in fact did cause [Plaintiff‟s] injury. To meet
this burden requires the use of expert testimony.” Kilpatrick v. Breg, Inc., 613
F.3d 1329, 1334 n. 4 (11th Cir. 2010)(internal citations omitted). Without the
testimony of Mr. Arms or Dr. Clarke, Plaintiff has no evidence that there was a
defect in the dryer which started the fire. Therefore, Plaintiff fails to meet the third
prong required for a successful strict product liability action.
However, Plaintiff alleges the case Cassisi v. Maytag Co. precludes
summary judgment from being granted. 396 So.2d 1140 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1st
1981). The facts in Cassisi are undoubtedly similar to the facts presented here.
The plaintiff brought a product liability action against the manufacturer of a dryer
that allegedly malfunctioned and caused a fire. The lower court granted summary
judgment stating the plaintiff failed to prove that the dryer was defective because
the dryer could not be properly examined due to damage. Id. at 1142. The
appellate court reversed, creating an inference of a defect when there is a
malfunction during normal operation. Id. at 1151.
Although there are many similarities between these two cases, Cassisi does
not apply here. Cassisi states that “the facts essential for the interference‟s
application are simply proof of the malfunction during normal operation.” Id.
Without Dr. Clarke‟s testimony, Plaintiff offers no evidence that the dryer was
operating when the fire started. The dryer was turned on at approximately 8:00
pm, and the fire was reported at 9:57 pm. The longest cycle the dryer could have
been on is sixty-four minutes. (Doc. 25). It is entirely possible that the dryer was
not operating when the fire started. In fact, without the experts‟ testimony,
Plaintiff offers no evidence that dryer started the fire rather than the dryer just
being damaged due to the fire starting elsewhere.
Summary judgment is granted for Defendant against Plaintiff. The clerk is
directed to close the case.
ORDERED on September 22, 2011.
/s/ Richard Smoak
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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