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Matthew Byrne and Jessica Byrne, On Behalf of Themselves and All v. General Electric

August 3, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schiller, J.


On November 21, 2008, a General Electric ("GE") dishwasher caught fire in the home of Plaintiffs Matthew and Jessica Byrne. Plaintiffs bring this putative class action, seeking damages and equitable relief on claims arising from the dishwasher's alleged design defects and GE's handling of a product recall. Presently before the Court is GE's motion for summary judgment. The Court will grant the motion in part and deny it in part for the reasons stated below.


A. Plaintiffs' Fire Damage and Insurance Claim

Plaintiffs purchased a house in Collegeville, Pennsylvania from James Samsel and Steven Kaufman. (Matthew Byrne's and Jessica Byrne's Statement of Contested and Uncontested Material Facts in Opp'n to GE's Mot. for Summ. J. [Pls.' Facts] ¶ 2.) Samsel and Kaufman had remodeled the kitchen and installed the GE dishwasher. (Id. ¶ 1; GE's Mot. for Summ. J. Re: Subrogation [GE Mot.] Ex. 1, Decl. of James Samsel ¶¶ 4-5.) Samsel paid $269.10 for the dishwasher in 2006. (GE Mot. ¶ 7; Samsel Decl. Ex. A, June 17, 2006 Samsel Builders invoice.)

A fire occurred in Plaintiffs' home on November 21, 2008. (Pls.' Facts ¶ 7.) Plaintiffs subsequently submitted a claim to their insurer, Nationwide Property & Casualty Insurance Company ("Nationwide"). (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiffs' Nationwide policy included "Dwelling" and "Personal Property" coverage. (GE Mot. Ex. 2, Timothy Todd. Aff. Ex. A, Byrne policy B1.) The Byrnes' dwelling coverage protected "the dwelling on the residence premises" that is used mainly as the insured's private residence. (Id.) Their personal property coverage insured possessions inside the home with the exception of certain vehicles, animals, and trailers. (Id. at B1-B3.) The Byrnes also maintained "Replacement Cost Plus" dwelling coverage. (Id., Policy Decls. 2.) This coverage provided for reimbursement of "the amount actually and necessarily spent to repair or replace the dwelling . . . [including] up to a minimum of an additional 20% of the Coverage A limit for the additional cost." (Id. at K3.)

Nationwide assigned claims adjuster Timothy Todd to handle Plaintiffs' fire losses. (Pls.' Facts Ex. 2, Matthew Byrne Aff. ¶ 3; Todd Aff. ¶ 3.) Todd adjusted the dishwasher as a "Dwelling Item" under Plaintiffs' policy. (Todd Aff. ¶ 8.) He assessed the replacement cost, including labor and installation, at $564.64. (Id. ¶ 10.) Todd also factored in sales tax and additional contracting costs, which brought Nationwide's total payment for the dishwasher to $718.22. (Id. ¶¶ 12-14.) Plaintiffs received $58,464.86 for their "dwelling loss," including compensation for the dishwasher. (Id. ¶¶ 15-20.)

Nationwide initially paid Plaintiffs over $164,000.00 for dwelling and personal property losses they sustained in the fire. (See Pls.' Facts ¶ 9.) Plaintiffs, however, characterize this sum as "an arbitrary selection of partial payments" that did not reflect a final adjustment of the claim. (Id.) They also deny that Nationwide ever compensated them for the dishwasher. (See, e.g., id.)

Matthew Byrne asserts that Todd told him that Nationwide would not compensate Plaintiffs for the dishwasher "because Nationwide believed the dishwasher to be the cause of the fire." (Matthew Byrne Aff. ¶ 3.) He reviewed the exhibits attached to Todd's affidavit, and observed that Todd's adjustment worksheet does not reflect compensation for Plaintiffs' refrigerator. (Id. ¶ 8.) According to Byrne, this exhibit is inconsistent with Mr. Todd's verbal representations to me and my wife, that we had been compensated for the refrigerator but not for the dishwasher.

That is why I did not contest the evaluation of the dwelling loss: because Nationwide had already paid a sufficient amount to cover the refrigerator and we were going to pursue the value of the dishwasher against General Electric. (Id.) Byrne thus believed that Nationwide had "tendered checks sufficient to cover what I believed to be all dwelling losses other than the dishwasher." (Id. ¶ 6.)

B. The Byrnes Sue Nationwide; Nationwide Sues GE

Plaintiffs sued Nationwide in December of 2009, alleging that Nationwide handled their insurance claims improperly. They received an additional $22,114.47 pursuant to a settlement agreement dated December 28, 2010. (GE Mot. ¶ 17 n.1; Pls.' Mem. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. 4; Pls.' Facts Ex. 1, settlement agreement 1.) This agreement states that the parties resolved "any and all . . . claims the parties have brought or could have brought against each other . . . including any and all claims arising out of the alleged loss to Plaintiffs' premises and contents which occurred on January 17, 2009 and which gave rise to the" lawsuit between Plaintiffs and Nationwide.*fn1 (Id.)

In the course of Plaintiffs' lawsuit against Nationwide, "Nationwide's counsel hinted to Plaintiffs' counsel that Nationwide was negotiating a subrogation release with GE," but refused to involve Plaintiffs in the process. (Pls.' Opp'n 4.) Plaintiffs' Nationwide policy contains a subrogation clause which provides that, in the event Nationwide paid a loss, "an insured's right to recover from someone else becomes ours up to the amount we paid." (Byrne policy L2.) Nationwide subsequently brought a subrogation claim against GE for reimbursement of its payment to Defendants - including the replacement cost of the dishwasher. (GE Mot. ¶¶ 20-21.) GE's insurer settled with Nationwide for $119,615.00 in October of 2010. (Id. ¶ 22; see also GE's Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J. 4.) ...

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