Acquisto v. The Manitowoc Company, Inc.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ADOPTING 83 REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION granting defendant's 62 motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff's request for summary judgment as a non-movant is denied, and the plaintiff's objections to Judge McCarthy's order on the motion to strike are denied as moot. SO ORDERED. Signed by Hon. Lawrence J. Vilardo on 3/31/2017. (Clerk of Court to close case).(CMD)-CLERK TO FOLLOW UP-
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
LORI ANN ACQUISTO,
THE MANITOWOC COMPANY, INC.,
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
The plaintiff commenced this action on September 22, 2011, asserting claims for
negligent product design and strict products liability.1 See Docket Items 1 & 19
(Amended Complaint). On December 30, 2013, the defendant moved for summary
judgment. Docket Item 62. After the plaintiff submitted her response (Docket Items 69
& 72), the defendant moved to strike the declaration of the plaintiff’s expert witness.
Docket Item 76. United States Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy thereafter
issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”), dated June 25, 2014, in which he
recommended that the defendant’s motion for summary judgment be granted. Docket
Item 83. Judge McCarthy also denied the defendant’s motion to strike “without
prejudice to renewal in the event that [the] recommendation [on summary judgment] is
not adopted.” Id. at 1. Pending before this Court are the plaintiff’s objections to the
The plaintiff also included “punitive damages” as a separately labeled claim for relief,
but a “demand or request for punitive damages is parasitic and possesses no viability
absent its attachment to a substantive cause of action.” Rocanova v. Equitable Life
Assur. Soc. of U.S., 83 N.Y.2d 603, 616, 634 N.E.2d 940, 945 (1994).
This case was reassigned from United States District Judge Richard J. Arcara to
the undersigned on March 7, 2016. Docket Item 92. On March 23, 2016, this Court
heard oral argument on the plaintiff’s objections. Docket Item 95. Both sides were
permitted to submit additional briefing, and they did so on April 13, 2016. See Docket
Items 97 & 98.
For the reasons set forth below and in the R&R, the defendant’s motion for
summary judgment (Docket Item 62) is GRANTED.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
With respect to dispositive matters such as the defendant’s motion for summary
judgment, this Court “must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge’s
disposition that has been properly objected to” and “may accept, reject, or modify the
recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the
magistrate judge with instructions.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3); see 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
To the extent that the plaintiff objects to non-dipositive matters, this Court “may
reconsider” the magistrate judge’s decision only “where it has been shown that the
magistrate judge’s order is clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(A); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a).
A court “shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The movant—i.e., the party seeking summary
judgment—has the initial burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute of material
fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). It may satisfy this burden
by relying on evidence in the record, “including depositions, documents, . . . [and]
affidavits,” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A), or by “point[ing] to an absence of evidence to
support an essential element of the nonmoving party’s claim.” Goenaga v. March of
Dimes Birth Defects Found., 51 F.3d 14, 18 (2d Cir. 1995) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at
322-23); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(B). Once the movant has satisfied its initial
burden, “the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts” showing that there
is a genuine dispute of material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted).
A genuine dispute of material fact exists “if the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “[T]he court must view the evidence in the
record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party” and must draw “all
reasonable inferences in that party’s favor.” Abdu-Brisson v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 239
F.3d 456, 466 (2d Cir. 2001). But “conclusory statements, conjecture, or speculation by
the party resisting the motion will not defeat summary judgment.” Kulak v. City of N.Y.,
88 F.3d 63, 71 (2d Cir. 1996).
The plaintiff objected to (1) Judge McCarthy’s recommendation that summary
judgment be granted to the defendant and (2) the denial of the defendant’s motion to
strike to the extent that it was without prejudice. The plaintiff also requested that this
Court grant her summary judgment, even though she did not move for such relief,
pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(f) (“Judgment Independent of the Motion”).
THE PLAINTIFF’S THEORY
The plaintiff claims that she suffered injuries on September 26, 2008, when she
slipped and fell in her workplace cafeteria. See Docket Item 19 (Amended Complaint)
at 2 (¶¶ 3-4). She alleges that her “accident resulted from water leaking onto the floor
from a ‘Q Model’ ice making and dispensing machine combination.” Id. (¶ 5).
The defendant manufactured and sold the ice dispenser—specifically, a Model
QFA-291—in May 2000. Docket Item 692 at 3 (¶ 1). At the time of the incident, nonparty Reite-Way Refrigeration (“Reite-Way”) owned the ice dispenser and was leasing it
to the plaintiff’s employer, non-party Bank of America. See id. at 4-5 (¶ 4). Reite-Way
had installed the ice dispenser in the cafeteria at Bank of America’s offices in Getzville,
New York, on April 11, 2008. See id. (¶¶ 4, 6). Under the lease, Bank of America was
responsible for maintaining the ice dispenser (although the property owner, non-party
Uniland Property Management Company, also may have cleaned the machine). See id.
at 4-5 (¶ 4), 17-18 (response to ¶ 25).
The ice dispenser “had a drain pan that was designed to catch any excess ice
that might fall,” allowing it to “melt and then exit the machine through [a] vinyl half inch
diameter drain line.” Id. at 9 (¶ 13). It is undisputed that “[t]he ice dispenser drain was
designed for liquid only” and “was not designed to be a garbage disposal.” Id. at 8
(¶ 12). So when employees “threw garbage into the drain pan,” Reite-Way was
repeatedly called to service or clean the machine. Id. at 6-9 (¶¶ 10-15).
Docket Item 69 is the “Plaintiff’s Response to Defendant’s Statement of Facts and in
Support of Plaintiff’s Request Under F.R. Civ. P. 56(f)(1).” It recites the defendant’s
statement of undisputed facts and includes responses for each paragraph that “the
plaintiff disputes, wholly or partly.” Docket Item 69 at 2. The facts set forth herein either
were undisputed or were the subject of clearly meritless objections.
As the plaintiff describes it, employees “use the ice catch basin as a convenient
disposal for food items and coffee stirrers, etc.,” which causes “the defendant’s
unprotected ice catch basin drain [to become] plugged and causes water to overflow
onto floors.” Id. at 7 (response to ¶ 10). Thus, it is the plaintiff’s theory that the ice
dispenser was defectively designed because “workers’ use of defendant’s ice catch
basin as a ‘garbage disposal’ was foreseeable . . . and defendant is liable for failing to
safely design its product in light of that foreseeable misuse.” Docket Item 72 at 8. The
plaintiff does not allege any manufacturing defect or failure to warn.3
STRICT PRODUCTS LIABILITY
Because the basis for jurisdiction in this Court is diversity of citizenship under 28
U.S.C. § 1332(a), New York law governs the plaintiff’s claims. See Bank of N.Y. v.
Amoco Oil Co., 35 F.3d 643, 650 (2d Cir. 1994) (“A federal court sitting in diversity
jurisdiction will, of course, apply the law of the forum state on outcome determinative
issues.”) (citing Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938)). In New York, “to
establish a prima facie case in strict products liability for design defects, the plaintiff
must show that the manufacturer breached its duty to market safe products when it
marketed a product designed so that it was not reasonably safe and that the defective
“In New York, there are three distinct claims for strict products liability: (1) a
manufacturing defect, which results when a mistake in manufacturing renders a product
that is ordinarily safe dangerous so that it causes harm; (2) a warning defect, which
occurs when the inadequacy or failure to warn of a reasonably foreseeable risk
accompanying a product causes harm; and (3) a design defect, which results when the
product as designed is unreasonably dangerous for its intended use.” McCarthy v. Olin
Corp., 119 F.3d 148, 154-55 (2d Cir. 1997) (internal citations omitted). As discussed in
more detail below, design defect cases also may be premised on arguably unintended
yet reasonably foreseeable uses of an unreasonably dangerous product. See Bolm v.
Triumph Corp., 33 N.Y.2d 151, 158, 305 N.E.2d 769, 773 (1973) (motorcycle
manufacturer may be liable for “unreasonably dangerous” design defects that do not
cause collisions but instead only “enhance or aggravate injuries”).
design was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s injury.” Voss v. Black & Decker
Mfg. Co., 59 N.Y.2d 102, 107, 450 N.E.2d 204, 208 (1983).
The parties’ summary judgment submissions disagreed starkly about whether
there is any evidence that the ice dispenser’s drain was clogged on the day in question
or that the plaintiff slipped on water from the ice dispenser—and therefore about
whether the allegedly defective design was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s
injury. But the R&R did not focus on those issues. As noted in the R&R, see Docket
Item 83 at 5, a cleaning employee, Mary Carroll, stated that water was “coming from the
ice machine” when she was called to clean up after the plaintiff’s accident. Docket Item
62-12 at 11. Ms. Carroll also said that the water was dripping from the machine
because “the drain that holds the ice was plugged”—an occurrence she claims to have
observed “numerous times before.” Id. For that reason, there is a question of fact
about whether a clogged ice machine caused the plaintiff’s injury, and the R&R
therefore focused on whether the ice dispenser was “not reasonably safe.” Given the
nature of the plaintiff’s objections, this Court will follow suit.
The design of a product is “not reasonably safe” if—assuming the alleged “defect
[was] known at the time of manufacture”—“a reasonable person would conclude that the
utility of the product did not outweigh the risk inherent in marketing a product designed
in that manner.” Voss, 59 N.Y.2d at 108, 450 N.E.2d at 208. A plaintiff making such a
claim “is under an obligation to present evidence that the product, as designed, was not
reasonably safe because there was a substantial likelihood of harm and it was feasible
to design the product in a safer manner.” Id. The “defendant manufacturer, on the
other hand, may present evidence in opposition seeking to show that the product is a
safe product—that is, one whose utility outweighs its risks when the product has been
designed so that the risks are reduced to the greatest extent possible while retaining the
product’s inherent usefulness at an acceptable cost.” Id.
In Voss, the New York Court of Appeals identified seven non-exclusive factors to
consider when “balancing the risks inherent in the product, as designed, against its
utility and cost.” Id. at 109, 450 N.E.2d at 208. Those factors include: “(1) the utility of
the product to the public as a whole and to the individual user; (2) the nature of the
product—that is, the likelihood that it will cause injury; (3) the availability of a safer
design; (4) the potential for designing and manufacturing the product so that it is safer
but remains functional and reasonably priced; (5) the ability of the plaintiff to have
avoided injury by careful use of the product; (6) the degree of awareness of the potential
danger of the product which reasonably can be attributed to the plaintiff; and (7) the
manufacturer’s ability to spread any cost related to improving the safety of the design.”
Id. at 109, 450 N.E.2d at 208-09.
In her objections, the plaintiff argues that the R&R misapplied New York law by
focusing on whether she made a showing of “substantial likelihood of harm” without
considering those risk-utility factors. See, e.g., Docket Item 85 at 6. She also argues
that “the defendant presented no evidence whatsoever, expert or otherwise, to defend
the safety of its machine . . . .” Docket Item 97 at 1-2. According to the plaintiff, the
burden therefore “never shifted to [her] to present such evidence . . . .” Id. at 2.
The “issue of whether a product is defectively designed such that its utility does
not outweigh its inherent danger is generally one ‘for the jury to decide’ . . . .” Yun Tung
Chow v. Reckitt & Colman, Inc., 17 N.Y.3d 29, 33, 950 N.E.2d 113, 116 (2011) (quoting
Voss, 59 N.Y.2d at 108, 450 N.E.2d at 208). But—at least in federal court—a
“defendant need not prove a negative when it moves for summary judgment on an issue
that the plaintiff must prove at trial. It need only point to an absence of proof on
plaintiff’s part, and, at that point, plaintiff must ‘designate specific facts showing that
there is a genuine issue for trial.’” Parker v. Sony Pictures Entm’t, Inc., 260 F.3d 100,
111 (2d Cir. 2001) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324).
Here, the defendant’s submissions pointed out that there is absolutely no
evidence showing that the ice dispenser’s drain would clog if used as intended. See
generally Robinson v. Reed-Prentice Div. of Package Mach. Co., 49 N.Y.2d 471, 481,
403 N.E.2d 440, 444 (1980) (“Where the product is marketed in a condition safe for the
purposes for which it is intended or could reasonably be intended, the manufacturer has
satisfied its duty.”). The defendant’s submissions also pointed out that there is no
evidence showing that the design deviated from any identified industry or safety
standards.4 And they vigorously argued that even with the plaintiff’s disclosed expert
evidence, the plaintiff still would not be able to prove that the ice dispenser was
defective. See, e.g., Docket Item 62-25 at 3-4.5
According to the defendant, the ice dispenser “was designed and manufactured to
comply with all Foodservice industry requirements and National consensus standards
for this type of equipment.” Docket Item 74 at 9 (¶ 18). At the same time, the defendant
claims that none of those standards are “relevant” to the ice dispenser’s drain basin.
See id. The plaintiff apparently agrees that the ice dispenser met those standards
and/or that those standards did not apply. See Docket Item 69 at 4 (response to ¶ 2).
The plaintiff also did not submit any evidence showing that the defendant violated any
specific industry standards.
In its motion to strike, the defendant also argued that permitting the plaintiff to rely on a
“belated” declaration from her expert would result in prejudice to the defendant. Docket
Item 76-4 at 2, 4. In other words, the defendant claimed that the plaintiff “filed her
expert’s Declaration in an attempt to cure the deficiencies” in her expert’s report “seven
For those reasons, notwithstanding the plaintiff’s objections, this Court finds that
the defendant satisfied its initial burden. See Celotex, supra; see also Chow, 17 N.Y.3d
at 36, 950 N.E.2d at 118 (Smith, J., concurring) (noting that while defendant failed to
meet its initial burden under New York summary judgment law because it failed to
address the risk-utility balance of its “inherently dangerous” product, the result “would
probably [be] different” in federal court under Celotex). The plaintiff therefore was
obligated to raise a genuine dispute of material fact in response to the defendant’s
The plaintiff attempted to do that by arguing that “use of defendant’s ice catch
basin as a ‘garbage disposal’ was foreseeable . . . and defendant is liable for failing to
safely design its product in light of that foreseeable misuse.” Although issues of
foreseeable misuse often are addressed in terms of a failure to warn,6 New York law
requires manufacturers “to exercise that degree of care in [their] plan[s] or design[s] so
as to avoid any unreasonable risk of harm to anyone who is likely to be exposed to the
danger when the product is used in the manner for which the product was intended . . . ,
as well as an unintended yet reasonably foreseeable use.” Micallef v. Miehle Co., Div.
of Miehle-Goss Dexter, 39 N.Y.2d 376, 385-86, 348 N.E.2d 571, 577 (1976) (emphasis
added); see Hoover v. New Holland N. Am., Inc., 23 N.Y.3d 41, 54, 11 N.E.3d 693, 701
(7) months after the Court-ordered date for expert disclosure and only after Manitowoc
filed for summary judgment and raised the deficiencies.” Id. at 3-4. This Court does not
reach that issue because this decision makes the issue moot.
See generally Amatulli by Amatulli v. Delhi Const. Corp., 77 N.Y.2d 525, 537, 571
N.E.2d 645, 651 (1991) (Titone, J., dissenting in part) (“While the focus of a designdefect claim . . . is the product’s fitness for intended uses, the focus of a failure to warn
claim such as that asserted here is whether there has been a breach of the
manufacturer’s duty to warn consumers against using the product for unintended but
foreseeable purposes.”) (internal citation omitted).
(2014). “What constitutes reasonable care will, of course, vary with the surrounding
circumstances and will involve a balancing of the likelihood of harm, and the gravity of
harm if it happens, against the burden of the precaution which would be effective to
avoid the harm.” Micallef, 39 N.Y.2d at 386, 348 N.E.2d at 577-78 (internal quotation
One example of how a plaintiff bringing such a claim can defeat summary
judgment is illustrated by Lugo by Lopez v. LJN Toys, Ltd., 75 N.Y.2d 850, 552 N.E.2d
162 (1990). In that case, the infant plaintiff sustained injuries after being struck in the
eye by a detachable part—a “shield” or “blade” in the shape of an eight-pointed star—
from a “Voltron-Defender of the Universe” doll. Id. at 851-52, 552 N.E.2d at 162-63. In
response to the defendant’s summary judgment motion, the plaintiff “submitted expert
evidence that, based upon customs and standards in the toy safety community, the part
was defective” because it was detachable and because of extensive television exposure
in which Voltron—“a well-known television cartoon character”7—“overcame enemies by
hurling his shield at them.” Id. As the New York Court of Appeals concluded, that “was
sufficient . . . to establish questions for the jury of whether the product was defective
and reasonably safe for its intended use or a reasonably foreseeable unintended use.”
Id. (emphasis added).
In this case, the plaintiff submitted expert evidence in the form of a report and
declaration from Donald Johnson, a “master plumber” with 30 or 40 years of
Actually, Voltron was the name of the giant humanoid robot, or mecha, piloted by the
experience8 in the plumbing field. In his report, the plaintiff’s expert opined that the
defendant could have manufactured the ice dispenser with (1) the drain strainer used on
its “S Series ice dispensers,” (2) a more effective “‘tall’ drain strainer,” or (3) “a
secondary or overflow drain.” Docket Item 69-7 at 10-11. The plaintiff’s expert said that
those options were inexpensive, were known at the time of manufacture, and would
have made the ice dispenser’s drain less likely to become clogged or would have
prevented the accident. Id. In his declaration (i.e., the subject of the defendant’s
motion to strike), the plaintiff’s expert added that although he had not previously used
the word “defective,” the ice dispenser was “very poorly and dangerously designed,
which makes its design ‘defective,’ as [he] understand[s] that word.” Id. at 1-2 (¶ 4).
And he concluded “that any plumbing fixture that, like the defendant’s machine, has a
designed-in tendency to overflow and leak water onto floors where people walk is
dangerously defective in its design.” Id. at 3 (¶ 10).
In addition to her expert evidence, the plaintiff relied on the inherent risk
presented by wet floors and the likelihood that people would use the dispensers as
trash bins, causing water to overflow. In this regard, the plaintiff cited the testimony of
one of the Reite-Way’s service technicians, Jon Brzuskiewicz, who stated that “probably
half [of Reite Way’s ice dispensers] would go to places where there’s more instance of,
you know, slob employees”—i.e., individuals who may use the drain basin as a trash
receptacle. Docket Item 69-1 at 82.
But under New York law, that evidence falls short.
Compare Docket Item 69-7 at 2 (¶ 7) with id. at 8.
First, there is no evidence in the record that anyone other than the plaintiff ever
has been injured due to the ice dispenser drain’s clogging. Nor is there any specific
evidence about how often the clogs—and any resulting overflows—occur. The plaintiff
attempts to infer from Brzuskiewicz’s testimony that overflows must occur in 50% of
similar ice dispenser installations. But as Judge McCarthy explained in the R&R, see
Docket Item 83 at 7, Brzuskiewicz did not say that. In fact, immediately after stating that
“probably half” of Reite-Way’s ice dispensers were installed at places with “slob
employees,” Brzuskiewicz said that the ice dispensers did not necessarily have clogging
issues even at those locations. In Brzuskiewicz’s words: two ice dispensers have for
years been at a location with “a thousand people that work there” who are “not very like
super intelligent people” without “one service call.” Docket Item 69-1 at 82-83.
Apparently, the employer simply “put a garbage can in front [of the dispenser] so the
employees would dump their garbage in the garbage can instead of dumping it in the
The plaintiff’s expert adds nothing to that testimony. In fact, his opinions about
the dangerousness of the ice dispenser rely on secondhand accounts of the depositions
in this case. See, e.g., Docket Item 69-7 at 9 (“I understand from discussions with
plaintiff’s counsel that a cleaner has testified that the subject ice dispenser had been
observed to leak water repeatedly in the past . . . .”). He did not actually review the
deposition transcripts. See Docket Item 62-14 at 5-6. He did not cite any studies,
statistics, or other similar incidents. He did not examine the ice dispenser9 or conduct
any testing. And he has no experience designing ice dispensers or similar products.10
The plaintiff’s evidence therefore boils down to common knowledge concerning
the risks of wet floors and her expert’s opinions on better ways to design an ice
dispenser. New York courts have found similar evidence insufficient to establish that a
product’s design is not reasonably safe.
In Delgado v. Markwort Sporting Goods Co., for example, the plaintiff’s expert (a
Ph.D. and associate director of recreational sports at Ohio State University) opined that
“flag belts” (i.e., belts with detachable flags for use in flag football) using D-shaped rings
as fasteners were not reasonably safe. 39 Misc. 3d 147(A), 972 N.Y.S.2d 143 (App.
Term 2d Dep’t 2013). According to the expert, the design presented a risk of finger
entrapment that could be eliminated by using a ring-less “quick-release” design. Id.
Although the expert’s proposal might make some sense as a safer design, the New
York court found that the plaintiff nevertheless had “failed to submit sufficient evidence
to prove, prima facie, that the D-ring flag belt posed a substantial likelihood of harm.”
Id. (citing Voss, 59 N.Y.2d at 108, 450 N.E.2d at 208). As in the case at bar, the
Delgado expert had a wealth of practical experience in a related field and some
seemingly commonsense ideas for an improved design. But because he “had no
experience in the design or manufacture of flag belts,” had “conducted no testing of the
He instead reviewed some technical documents (manual, parts list, etc.) and
His qualifications are based solely on his years of experience in the plumbing and
HVAC industry. He therefore opines that “[t]he defendant’s machine is simply a
specialized plumbing fixture: it is fed water from the building’s plumbing system, and it
drains unused water, spilled as ice into its catch basin from its ice dispenser, into the
building’s drainage system.” Docket Item 69-7 at 3 (¶ 8).
D-ring flag belt,” and had no evidence of any other injuries, id., the Delgado expert’s
experience and common sense were not good enough.
Similarly, in Cervone v. Tuzzolo, the plaintiff’s expert, a licensed mechanical
engineer, opined that a “dinette table was defectively designed because the table legs
created a tripping hazard.” 291 A.D.2d 426, 427, 738 N.Y.S.2d 60, 61 (2d Dep’t 2002).
Noting that the expert “had no practical experience or personal knowledge in the design
of dining room furniture,” the court found that his opinion “was unsupported by
foundational facts such as a deviation from industry standards or statistics showing the
frequency of injuries caused by such a design.” Id. at 427, 738 N.Y.S.2d at 62.
“Therefore, it was insufficient to support a finding that the dinette table was not
[reasonably safe].” Id.
The plaintiff’s expert proof here suffers from the same deficiencies as did the
expert proof in those cases. And while both those cases involved directed verdicts,
comparable cases in the summary judgment context support the same conclusion.
See, e.g., Castro v. Delta Int’l Mach. Corp., 309 A.D.2d 827, 828, 766 N.Y.S.2d 65, 66
(2d Dep’t 2003) (“The opinion of the plaintiff’s expert, a licensed professional engineer
whose resume was not submitted, was not supported by foundational facts such as
actual testing of the drill press, statistics showing frequency of injury resulting from the
machine’s design, or consumer complaints.”); Martinez v. Roberts Consol. Indus., Inc.,
299 A.D.2d 399, 399, 749 N.Y.S.2d 279, 280 (2d Dep’t 2002) (“the expert’s opinion was
not supported by any foundational facts such as actual testing of the knife, a deviation
from industry standards, statistics showing frequency of injury resulting from the design
of the knife, or consumer complaints”); Geddes v. Crown Equip. Corp., 273 A.D.2d 904,
904, 709 N.Y.S.2d 770, 771–72 (4th Dep’t 2000) (“The qualifications of their expert do
not establish that he has any experience or personal knowledge in the design,
manufacture or use of forklift trucks, nor is the expert’s conclusion that the forklift truck
was defective and unsafe because of the presence and size of the rearview mirrors
supported by foundational facts, such as a deviation from industry standards or
statistics showing the frequency of injuries caused by using such a forklift truck.”); see
also Amatulli by Amatulli v. Delhi Const. Corp., 77 N.Y.2d 525, 533, 571 N.E.2d 645
(1991) (where plaintiff’s expert’s affidavit contained “only bare conclusory assertions in
respect to industry-wide knowledge . . . , it was insufficient to raise a triable issue of
fact” to defeat summary judgment on failure to warn claim).
Thus, in the absence of any evidence showing a “substantial likelihood of harm,”
the plaintiff cannot satisfy her burden “of showing ‘that the product, as designed, was
not reasonably safe.’” Doomes v. Best Transit Corp., 17 N.Y.3d 594, 608, 958 N.E.2d
1183, 1191 (2011) (quoting Voss, supra). Her attempts to show that it was feasible to
design the ice dispenser in a safer manner do not change that. Delgado, 39 Misc. 3d
147(A), 972 N.Y.S.2d 143 (“Without any showing that the product in question was
unreasonably dangerous as designed, plaintiff's showing that there were economically
feasible alternate designs available is, essentially, irrelevant.”). Nor do any relevant
risk-utility factors dictate a different result.11
As previously noted, the plaintiff faults Judge McCarthy for not discussing each of the
risk-utility factors listed in Voss. But when a plaintiff is required to set forth a prima facie
case and is unable to do so, an in-depth discussion of numerous non-exclusive riskutility factors tends to be unnecessary (as the New York summary judgment cases cited
above demonstrate). Moreover, one of the only New York appellate decisions to
include such an in-depth discussion—before finding that the plaintiff failed to submit
“prima facie evidence that the [product] was not reasonably safe”—supports the result
What is more, the plaintiff’s expert in this case acknowledged that any drain can
become clogged if it is abused. See Docket Item 74-7 at 4. It therefore is surprising,
given the ubiquity of plumbing fixtures, HVAC systems, etc., in buildings today, that the
plaintiff did not cite a single case in which a New York court analyzed a products liability
claim based on a clogged drain or leaking water (caused by misuse or otherwise). And
as the defendant pointed out at oral argument, common fixtures such as kitchen or
utility sinks also do not have the overflow drains or strainers that the plaintiff’s expert
recommended.12 All that confirms that the device here is not unreasonably dangerous
and that the remedy for the plaintiff’s wrong simply cannot be found in New York
products liability law.
here. In Fallon v. Clifford B. Hannay & Son, Inc., the court affirmed summary judgment
on a design defect claim based on a product that “occasionally” may cause a user to
lose balance and fall. 153 A.D.2d 95, 100, 550 N.Y.S.2d 135, 137 (3d Dep’t 1989). The
court found that “the magnitude and seriousness of the danger,” the plaintiff’s
awareness of the risk, and the availability of “simple precautions which could have been
taken to avoid the disastrous fall [all] militated against a finding that the [product] was
unreasonably dangerous.” Id. at 99-100, 550 N.Y.S.2d at 137. Here, too, the
magnitude of the danger (approximately the same danger as in Fallon), the plaintiff’s
awareness of the risk (she previously had observed the cafeteria floor to be wet, as
public cafeteria floors may sometimes be), and the simple precautions that may have
avoided the danger (Brzuskiewicz’s testimony suggested that the risks of clogging and
overflow can be eliminated by placing a garbage can near the dispenser), militate
against a finding that the product was unreasonably dangerous.
The plaintiff attempted to distinguish the ice dispenser from other plumbing fixtures
based on the surreptitious manner in which water might drip from a clogged ice
dispenser onto the floor. See, e.g., Docket Item 97 at 3 (“In contrast, when a kitchen or
utility sink or toilet overflows, the spillage is immediately visible and obvious, and often
quite audible, to anyone in the vicinity; the event itself is a clear and sharp warning that
allows people to protect themselves by treading carefully and cautiously.”) (emphasis
removed). But even if that assertion is true—something that may not be as self-evident
as the plaintiff posits—the plaintiff herself previously had observed the cafeteria floor to
be wet, as noted above.
Indeed, as New York courts repeatedly have explained, the “legal responsibility,
if any, for injury caused by machinery which has possible dangers incident to its use
should be shouldered by the one in the best position to have eliminated those dangers.”
Micallef, 39 N.Y.2d at 387, 348 N.E.2d at 578. And a “manufacturer’s duty . . . does not
extend to designing a product that is impossible to abuse.” Robinson, 49 N.Y.2d at 480,
403 N.E.2d at 444. “To hold otherwise casts the manufacturer and supplier in the role
of insurers answerable to injured parties in any event . . . .” Biss v. Tenneco, Inc., 64
A.D.2d 204, 207-08, 409 N.Y.S.2d 874, 877 (4th Dep’t 1978). “[I]t may often be that an
injured party, because of the exclusivity of workers’ compensation, is barred from
commencing an action against the one who exposes him to unreasonable peril by
affirmatively rendering a safe product dangerous. However, that an employee may
have no remedy in tort against his employer gives the courts no license to thrust upon a
third-party manufacturer a duty to insure that its product will not be abused.” Robinson,
49 N.Y.2d at 481, 403 N.E.2d at 444. Thus, while this Court is sympathetic to the
plaintiff in light of the injuries she suffered, holding the defendant liable for those injuries
would be the wrong result.
As it happens, this Court was able to find one New York case involving a leaking
device (cited by neither side here), which seems to have been decided in a similar way.
In Leone v. BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc., the plaintiff “was injured when she slipped on
water leaking from a refrigerated flower display case in a store owned by defendant
BJ’s.” 89 A.D.3d 406, 407, 931 N.Y.S.2d 327, 328 (1st Dep’t 2011). The co-defendant
manufacturer moved for summary judgment, submitting evidence that the display case’s
“condensation evaporation pans” complied with the applicable industry standard. Id. At
least somewhat like the ice dispenser here, the device in Leone “could only handle its
own condensate,” and misuse of the device—employees apparently pouring water from
“flower buckets into it”—caused water to “leak or spill out.” Id. at 407, 931 N.Y.S.2d at
329. The party opposing summary judgment submitted an expert affidavit opining that
the display case was defectively designed. But the court found that “[t]he expert
affidavit . . . failed to raise a triable issue of fact, since the expert had not inspected the
subject display case; nor did he opine that the design of the display case failed to
comply with applicable industry standards.” Id. at 407, 931 N.Y.S.2d at 328. For similar
reasons, the plaintiff failed to raise a genuine dispute of material fact here.
In sum, based on New York law and the lack of evidence concerning any
substantial likelihood of harm—and after considering the relevant risk-utility factors—
this Court agrees with Judge McCarthy that the plaintiff’s evidence is insufficient to
establish that the ice dispenser’s design was not reasonably safe. As Judge McCarthy
put it: “While plaintiff’s expert discusses alternative designs which might have
prevented the accident, plaintiff must first ‘demonstrate that the subject product was not
reasonably safe . . . , before the issue of a feasible alternative design is even
addressed.’” Docket Item 83 at 5 (quoting Rypkema v. Time Mfg. Co., 263 F.Supp.2d
687, 693 (S.D.N.Y. 2003)).
The plaintiff’s negligent design claim fails for the same reasons as her strict
products liability claim and need not be analyzed separately in this case. See generally
Kosmynka v. Polaris Indus., Inc., 462 F.3d 74, 86 (2d Cir. 2006) (“Both negligence and
strict products liability (under New York Law) require a showing of a product ‘defect.’”)
(citing Fritz v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 306 A.D.2d 896, 897, 762 N.Y.S.2d 711, 714
(4th Dep’t 2003)); Denny v. Ford Motor Co., 87 N.Y.2d 248, 258, 662 N.E.2d 730, 735
Accordingly, for the reasons set forth above and in the R&R, the defendant’s
summary judgment motion (Docket Item 62) is GRANTED, the plaintiff’s request for
summary judgment as a non-movant is denied, and the plaintiff’s objections to Judge
McCarthy’s order on the motion to strike are denied as moot.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
March 31, 2017
Buffalo, New York
s/Lawrence J. Vilardo
LAWRENCE J. VILARDO
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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