Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co. et al v. General Electric Company et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER: IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that plaintiffs motion to compel [Doc. # 59 ] is granted. Signed by District Judge Carol E. Jackson on 4/14/16. (JAB)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
LIBERTY MUTUAL INSURANCE CO.,
GENERAL ELECTRIC CO.
Case No. 4:15-CV-976-CEJ
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on plaintiff’s motion to compel defendant to answer
plaintiff’s Interrogatory No. 16 and Requests for Production Nos. 20 and 23.
seeks discovery about prior incidents or claims related to the “non-passive” failure of
defendant’s Type S metal-halide light bulbs. According to plaintiff, the bulbs operate at
high pressures and high temperatures.
Non-passive failures are a consequence of the
bulbs weakening over time under normal operating conditions.
The bulbs shatter and
eject “hot” fragments. The fire that gave rise to plaintiff’s products liability, negligence,
and breach of warranty claims allegedly was caused at least in part by one such failure.
The parties conferred, and two disputes remain unresolved.
First, the parties
agree that defendant will disclose evidence of prior incidents or claims related to the
non-passive failure of the bulbs, but they disagree as to the relevant scope.
seeks evidence of all prior incidents or claims related to non-passive failures of the bulbs.
Defendant objects to disclosing evidence of incidents or claims that did not result in a “fire
or smoldering of materials.”
Defendant concedes that evidence of prior incidents or
claims related to the non-passive failure of the bulbs is relevant to plaintiff’s products
liability claims. Indeed, “[d]iscovery may be allowed where a plaintiff alleges that the
defendant was on notice of a defect, that an alternative design was feasible and the
defendant had knowledge of the same, that a defendant did not eliminate a previously
occurring defect in design, or that previous, similar accidents related to the accident at
issue had occurred.”
McAllister-Lewis v. Goodyear Dunlop Tires N. Am., Ltd., No.
4:14-CV-04103-LLP, 2015 WL 4886539, at *10 (D.S.D. Aug. 17, 2015), supplemented,
2015 WL 5794697 (Oct. 1, 2015).
“[T]he substantial similarity rule does not require
identical products . . . only . . . substantial similarity among those variables which are
relative to the plaintiff’s theory of defect.”
Id. at *11 (quotation marks and citation
McAllister-Lewis is persuasive.
In that case, the defendant was compelled to
produce records of other alleged incidents involving similar products.
plaintiff seeks only information about other incidents involving precisely the same
product, which is of even greater import to the instant claims than the discovery
compelled in McAllister-Lewis.
Missouri courts have likewise repeatedly held
evidence of prior incidents of the type plaintiff seeks are relevant.
See, e.g., State ex rel.
Stolfa v. Ely, 875 S.W.2d 579, 581 (Mo. Ct. App. 1994).
Defendant makes much of the fact that in some instances the bulbs at issue shatter
and eject hot fragments that happen not to land on flammable materials. Whether or not
in a particular instance hot fragments caused smoldering or a fire is not the salient issue.
Plaintiff’s claims are premised in part on the design of and warnings accompanying the
bulbs, which implicates the risks that the bulbs would shatter, and defendant’s knowledge
Though instances in which particular bulbs shattered and caused fires are
obviously more useful comparators, the evidence of all incidents or claims related to
non-passive failures is relevant to plaintiff’s claims.
4886539, at *10–11.
See McAllister-Lewis, 2015 WL
Consequently, defendant will be ordered to produce that
The second area of dispute concerns the time period covered by the discovery.
The parties agree to a ten-year disclosure time frame, but they disagree as to the
beginning and end dates of that period. Plaintiff proposes the relevant time frame begins
ten years before the date of the fire: July 27, 2002 – July 27, 2012.
counter-proposes the ten-year period should be measured from approximately the date of
this discovery dispute: February 8, 2006 – February 8, 2016.
Unlike plaintiff, defendant
offers no explanation for the start and end dates it selected, which are not tethered to any
meaningful events in this case.
Plaintiff’s request for information covering a ten-year period before the fire is
reasonable because the gravamen of its claims is that defendant knew its product could
cause a fire before the instant fire occurred.
See id. at *8.
In contrast, defendant’s
arbitrarily selected timeframe would limit plaintiff to six years of relevant information from
before the fire and would provide plaintiff with evidence regarding non-passive failures
that occurred years after the fire.
and did before the fire.
Such evidence is irrelevant to what defendant knew
See id. (“only earlier accidents can be relevant to the issue of
notice” (quotation marks and citation omitted)).
Therefore, defendant will be required
to produce evidence of prior incidents or claims related to any non-passive failure of the
bulbs from July 27, 2002 to July 27, 2012.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that plaintiff’s motion to compel [Doc. #59] is granted.
CAROL E. JACKSON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated this 14th day of April, 2016.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?