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E. J. STEWARD, INC. v. AITKEN PRODS.

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA


January 22, 1985

E. J. STEWART, INC.
v.
AITKEN PRODUCTS, INC. and ELECTRO-THERM, INC.; MARRA DAVIS v. AITKEN PRODUCTS, INC. and ELECTRO-THERM, INC.; VICTOR C. SMITH, INC. and SPORKIN ASSOCIATES, INC. v. AITKEN PRODUCTS, INC. and ELECTRO-THERM, INC.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: VANARTSDALEN

OPINION AND ORDER

 VanARTSDALEN, District Judge.

 1. BACKGROUND

 These consolidated civil actions had their genesis in a fire at E. J. Stewart, Inc.'s (E. J. Stewart) leased premises on January 31, 1980. The fire apparently started in an area near a suspended electric radiant heater in E. J. Stewart's warehouse. E.J. Stewart, a video production company, brought suit in Civil Action 81-3292 against the manufacturers of the heating unit, Aitken Products, Inc. (Aitken) and the component heating element (or calrod), Electro-Therm, Inc. (Electro-Therm), to recover alleged property damage and business interruption losses caused by the fire. E. J. Stewart alleged that the radiant heating element, known as a Thermalink, arced or failed in a catastrophic manner, causing the fire.

 The plaintiffs in Civil Actions 81-4328 and 81-4742, Marra Davis, Victor C. Smith, Inc. and Sporkin Associates, Inc., were the owner and two other tenants of the building, respectively. Pursuant to stipulation entered into by the parties, the plaintiffs in Civil Actions 81-4328 and 81-4742 agreed to be bound by a decision as to liability in Civil Action 81-3292. Therefore, Civil Action 81-3292, with E. J. Stewart as plaintiff, proceeded to trial alone.

 Following a jury trial that commenced on February 28, 1984 and concluded on March 8, 1984, the jury returned answers to written interrogatories in favor of defendants as follows:

 

SPECIAL INTERROGATORIES TO THE JURY

 

1. Do you find that the electric heater was the cause of the fire? YES X NO

 

2. Do you find that the electric heater, at the time it was manufactured and sold by Aitken Products, Inc., was defective? YES X NO

 

(a) If 2 above is answered YES, was such defect a design defect? YES NO X

 

(1) If 2(a) is answered YES, was such a design defect a legal cause of the fire (i.e., a substantial factor in bringing about the fire)? YES NO

 

(b) If 2 is answered YES, was such defect a failure to provide adequate warnings? YES X NO

 

(1) If 2(b) is answered YES, was such failure to provide adequate warnings a legal cause of the fire (i.e., a substantial factor in bringing about the fire)? YES NO X

 

3. Do you find that the electric heating element (calrod) component part of the electric heater, at the time it was manufactured and sold by Electro Therm, Inc., was defective? YES X NO

 

(a) If 3 is answered YES, was such defect a design defect? YES NO X

 

(1) If 3(a) is answered YES, was such a design defect a legal cause of the fire (i.e., a substantial factor in bringing about the fire)? YES NO

 

(b) If 3 is answered YES, was such a defect a failure to provide adequate warnings? YES X NO

 

(1) If 3(b) is answered YES, was such failure to provide adequate warnings a legal cause of the fire (i.e., a substantial factor in bringing about the fire)? YES NO X

 

4. Do you find that Aitken Products, Inc., was negligent, which negligence was a legal cause of the fire (i.e., a substantial factor in bringing about the fire)? YES X NO

 

5. Do you find that Electro Therm, Inc. was negligent, which negligence was a legal cause of the fire (i.e., a substantial factor in bringing about the fire)? YES X NO

 

6. Do you find that E. J. Stewart, Inc., was contributorily negligent, which negligence contributed causally to bringing about the fire? YES X NO

 

7. What percentage of the total causal negligence of all parties found causally negligent do you find as to each party found causally negligent?

  (a) Aitken Products, Inc. 20% (Answer only if 4 is answered YES) (b) Electro Therm, Inc. 5% (Answer only if 5 is answered YES) (c) E. J. Stewart, Inc. 75% (Answer only if 6 is answered YES) TOTAL 100%

19850122

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