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Summary Judgment In Product Liability Fire Loss Case Obtained By Michael F. Schmidt

Auto Club Group Insurance Company as Subrogee of Andrea and John Nelson v Auto-Glass Aquarium Company, Inc., U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan Southern Division.

Subrogation claim by the plaintiff, Auto Club Group Insurance Company as Subrogee of Andrea and John Nelson for fire damage to the Nelsons’ house and personal property claimed to be in excess of $235,000. The product liability action was filed against All-Glass Aquarium Company, Inc. alleging that the fire was caused by the failure of a switch in an aquarium hood/light manufactured by All-Glass. We deposed the plaintiffs’ experts and retained our own expert. Based upon the testimony the plaintiffs’ experts and our expert we filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the product liability claim must fail because there was no proof or evidence beyond speculation and conjecture that the fire was caused by the aquarium hood light. The plaintiffs’ expert claimed that the fire started in the switch and that the switch was entirely consumed in the fire. We showed through the testimony of our expert that the switch was not entirely consumed in the fire, that there was no evidence of any arcing or electrical activity on the remains of the switch, and that there were other potential causes of the fire which had not been eliminated. The trial court issued a lengthy written opinion holding that the plaintiffs’ experts’ opinions did not rise above the speculative level and were insufficient to support the plaintiffs’ claim, that the plaintiffs’ expert could not identify a specific manufacturing defect in the product, had no evidence to support his carbon-tracking theory and did not compare the product at issue to defendant’s own manufacturing standards. Regarding the negligence claim, the court held that the plaintiff did not differentiate the negligence claim from the implied warranty claim which was also thus insufficient. The trial court thus granted summary judgment and dismissed all claims by the plaintiffs against All-Glass Aquarium Company, Inc.