Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

BOOTH v. BLACK & DECKER

April 12, 2001

JACOB J. BOOTH AND KATHLEEN BOOTH, HUSBAND AND WIFE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BLACK & DECKER, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lowell A. Reed, Jr., S.J.

MEMORANDUM

Defendant, Black & Decker, Inc., has moved for summary judgment in this products liability case. The motion hinges on the admissibility of plaintiffs' expert testimony concerning whether a toaster oven manufactured by Black & Decker was the cause of a fire that severely damaged plaintiffs' home. Upon consideration of the motion, plaintiffs' response, and the evidentiary record, including the testimony of plaintiffs' expert at Daubert hearings on January 4 and 10, 2001, the motion of defendants will be granted.

Background

On September 13, 1996, the residence of plaintiffs was ravaged by a fire. The parties agree that the fire began in the northeast corner of the kitchen. A number of appliances were located in that area of the kitchen, including a dishwasher, a toaster oven, and a microwave. Plaintiffs assert that the toaster oven caused the fire.*fn1 The toaster oven was manufactured by Black & Decker, and purchased by plaintiffs approximately three months before the fire took place.

Plaintiffs assert three causes of action: strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty. They respond to summary judgment in cursory fashion, with five-page memorandum that relies completely upon and incorporates by reference the arguments and evidence presented by plaintiff in the related case Fanning v. Black & Decker, Civil Action No. 98-6141.*fn2 That case was settled as to Black & Decker, and dismissed by stipulation as to Caldor Corporation. Plaintiff in the related case focused on two theories of liability: design defect and manufacturing defect.*fn3 Because plaintiffs in this case rely wholly on the arguments and evidence of plaintiff in the related case, I address here only the arguments and evidence advanced by plaintiff in the related case.

The crux of the motion for summary judgment is whether plaintiffs can prove that the toaster oven was defective and caused the fire; plaintiffs cannot succeed on any of their claims without proving defect and causation. Plaintiffs proffer the expert testimony of Richard B. Thomas, who is prepared to testify that the toaster oven was defective and caused the fire. Black & Decker argues that plaintiffs' expert, is not qualified to give his expert opinion as to a design or manufacturing defect in the toaster oven or the cause of the fire, and that his testimony is otherwise inadmissible.

This Court held two days of hearings on January 4 and 10, 2001, to determine the admissibility of Thomas' testimony, at which Thomas testified and explained photographs and images. Counsel for Black & Decker participated, as did counsel for the estate of Edith Fanning in the related case. Counsel for the Booths, plaintiffs in the instant action, took no part in that hearing, despite having received notice of it.

This Court concluded at the hearing that Thomas was qualified to testify on "matters involving electrical aspects of consumer product electrical devices, including a toaster oven. . . ." (Transcript of Hearing on the Admissibility of Expert Testimony from Richard B. Thomas, Document No. 39, Jan. 4, 2001, at 15) ("Thomas Hearing I"). I also concluded that Thomas was qualified to interpret the results of a scanning electron microscope examination. (Id. at 109.)

Thomas testified that at the outset of his investigation, there were "two candidates for the cause of the fire, a microwave oven and a toaster oven." (Transcript of Hearing on the Admissibility of Expert Testimony from Richard B. Thomas, Document No. 40, Jan. 10, 2001, at 11) ("Thomas Hearing II"). He was asked to examine both of them. He testified about his examination and explained a number of photographs of the toaster. He testified, "The condition of the [toaster] oven is certainly indicative of the — it being the cause of the fire." (Id. at 17.) Thomas explained his hypothesis of how the toaster oven caused the fire: "[T]he toaster oven overheated as a result of being kept on by a failure of the main power contacts." (Id. at 18.)

Thomas testified that he had attempted to confirm his hypothesis by examining the power contacts with a scanning electron microscope. This involved removing the contacts from the toaster oven and placing them under a scanning electron microscope to ascertain their condition. Thomas explained that the contacts had indications of melting and scoring, suggesting that the surfaces had welded. (Thomas Hearing II, at 61.)

Thomas also explained that the toaster oven was, in his opinion, defectively designed because it lacked a high-temperature limit switch or thermal cut-off device and because of an abundance of plastic material, which has a low melting point. (Id. at 30-31.) He concluded that a thermal cut-off device, which would shut off the power in the toaster oven when it reached a certain temperature and thus prevent overheating, could "easily" have been incorporated into the toaster oven at issue. He based this conclusion on (1) "general knowledge of the devices and their applications; (2) "the fact that [a thermal cut-off device] was incorporated into a Canadian unit; and (3) on the testimony of one of the manufacturer's representatives. (Thomas Hearing II, at 46.) Such a device would have, in the opinion of Thomas, "possibly prevented the fire." (Id.)

Thomas never conducted any testing to determine the maximum temperature that might be reached in the toaster oven. (Id. at 73-74.) Nor did he test his hypothesis by placing the toaster oven in an unregulated condition to determine whether it would start a fire under such circumstances. (Id. at 83-84.) Thomas did not conduct any testing or make a model of the kind of ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.