Dupée & Monroe Successfully Litigates Motion in Product Defect Injury Case
In courtrooms around the country and in New York, in particular, cases are often decided without a trial ever being held. Instead, a court ruling on a “pre-trial motion” will dispense with an issue in the case or dispose of the case altogether. For instance, a plaintiff in a personal injury case might move for summary judgment on the question of liability. This motion basically asks the judge to rule that the defendant is liable as a matter of law, meaning there is no question of fact related to liability that the jury would need to hear and decide. When such a motion is granted, the only issue remaining for trial is how much for the jury to award in damages. Defendants often settle at this point rather than send the matter to the jury when liability is already a foregone conclusion.
Conversely, defendants often submit pre-trial motions of their own. A defendant’s summary judgment motion is most likely to ask the court to dismiss the case. As with a plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, the defendant is asking the court to agree there is no material issue of fact for the jury to determine, and the defendant is entitled to win as a matter of law.
As you can see, a lot rides on a pre-trial summary judgment motion. The attorneys at Dupée & Monroe are currently involved in an injury case alleging that the defendant’s defective product was the cause of our client’s injury. The defendants moved to dismiss the case with a summary judgment motion. We successfully opposed the motion, keeping the case alive and headed toward trial and hopefully a resolution in our client’s favor. For now, we celebrate our win in the pre-trial motion and continue to battle for our client’s rights and interests.
Background of the Case
The case in question is Abigail Grace v. Jack Palladino, Ralph J. Palladino, Jr., William J. Grace, Jr., Cycle Motion, Inc., and Polaris Industries, Inc. This case involves a rollover crash in 2012 of a Polaris all-terrain vehicle, RZR 170, which is an ATV apparently designed for use by youths. At the time of the crash, our client, then-12-year-old Abigail Grace, was a passenger on the ATV being operated by nine-year-old family friend Jack Palladino, who had no prior experience operating the vehicle. Our client injured her arm in the traumatic rollover crash.
We filed a lawsuit against Polaris Industries, the manufacturer of the ATV, on April 5, 2021, alleging negligence, breach of implied and express warranty, defective design, unreasonably dangerous product, and violations of the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA). On June 24, 2021, Polaris moved to dismiss the CPSA claims against it, and this motion was granted on January 10, 2022. Meanwhile, on July 23, 2021, we added Cycle Motion, the distributor of the ATV and the company that sold the vehicle to Jack’s father, William Grace, as a defendant.
Defendants Move for Summary Judgement
Polaris Industries moved for summary judgment on March 21, 2023, and Cycle Motion joined in the motion on May 8. They argued that the vehicle was reasonably safe, and the accident was caused by the occupants who ignored warnings on the ATV’s hang tag and user’s manual which advised it was not meant for children under 12 and also cautioned against making quick turns or stunts or driving too fast for the operator’s skills or the terrain. The defendants’ motion alleged the ATV was operated in an unsafe manner by an individual who was too young to operate it. Importantly, the defendants argued in their motion that there was no evidence that the ATV was defective.
In our opposition to the defense motion, we submitted three detailed expert affidavits that found the vehicle was laterally unstable and prone to rollovers due to the ATV’s weight distribution and center of gravity. In the words of our experts, a design defect caused the accident. Our expert affidavits also concluded that an alternative design would have prevented the injuries in this case. Finally, not only were rollovers foreseeable in this ATV as designed, but such incidents were actually experienced by Polaris Industries during field testing of the product.
Based in part on the expert affidavits we submitted, we argued that there are indeed issues of fact in this case that should be litigated to a jury regarding whether the vehicle was defectively designed and the potential liability of the manufacturer and distributor.
Defendants Fail to Make Their Case
The burden of proof is on the moving party to make its case when filing a motion for summary judgment. Specifically, the movant must make a prima facie showing of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law with proof in admissible form sufficient to establish the lack of any material issues of fact. If they do so, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to produce evidence to establish the existence of material issues of fact which require a trial.
Here, the defendants did nothing to counter the expert affidavits we submitted. As the court found, the defendants’ only evidence that the ATV was reasonably safe as designed was a reference to the warnings in the owner’s manual, cherry-picked testimony from an employee, and pointing to alleged gaps in the plaintiff’s evidence. However, the court noted that the law requires affirmative proof from the moving party, not pointing out gaps in the other party’s evidence. Additionally, alleging that the vehicle operator was negligent did nothing to rebut our claims regarding the product defects, leaving that question to be resolved by the jury.
The court therefore denied the defense motions for summary judgment. The matter will now continue toward a trial. If the defendants wish to avoid a trial on the merits of the case, they’ll need to settle out of court, and they’ll need to do so quickly. A trial scheduling conference has been set for February 20, 2024, at 9:30 a.m.