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Baumann, Gant & Keeley Defend Product Defect Wrongful Death Claim

Attorney Daniel P. Stiffler of Baumann, Gant & Keeley, P.A.Baumann, Gant & Keeley, P.A. in Jacksonville, Florida – a law firm that is part of Themis Advocates Group – recently defended two businesses from a wrongful death and product liability lawsuit. The plaintiff blamed the defendants for a sewer pipe explosion that killed her son. The attorneys of Baumann, Gant & Keeley, P.A. were able to secure a motion for summary judgment on all three counts of negligence brought forth by the plaintiff, effectively ending the case in favor of the defense.

Details of the Sewer Pipe Fatal Accident Case

The plaintiff’s son (decedent) was repairing a sewer pipe manufactured by Vanderlans & Sons, Inc. (Vanderlans) and rented out by Sunbelt Rentals, Inc. (Sunbelt) when it exploded. The resulting blast threw debris that struck the decedent, resulting in injuries severe enough to cause his death. The plaintiff blamed Vanderlans and Sunbelt for the accident and attempted to sue for compensation.

The sewer pipe was installed to block water flow into the plumbing system. It appears that an excess of pressure due to the blocked water flow caused the pipe and its plug to fail and explode, but the exact details are unknown due to a lack of expert investigation into the matter. Although just because a product fails does not mean it did so due to negligence or in a way that warrants a lawsuit.

When the Evidence Does Not Add Up

To disprove the plaintiff’s claim, the attorneys of Baumann, Gant & Keeley, P.A. turned to Florida’s definitions of product liability. Under this definition, a product is defective if there is a design, manufacturing, or marketing warning that causes the product to become dangerous when used as intended. The plaintiff failed to make an argument as to which of the three ways the sewer pipe and its pipe plug were defective; she merely argued that the pipe was defective in some undescribed way.

Furthermore, the plaintiff did not hire an expert plumber or engineer to investigate the failed pipe. Without an expert’s testimony, crucial technicalities that could show how the pipe failed and why it failed were entirely absent in the claim. Effectively, the plaintiff’s argument would have to be based on speculation and a general haze of product liability, which is not enough to warrant a ruling in their favor.

Interestingly, the plaintiff tried to revive their argument by pointing to Cassisi v. Maytag, a case that established that a products liability action could succeed if it can be proven that the product was defective “at the time of the injury and at the time it was within [the] control of the supplier.” However, Cassisi requires the preservation of the evidence and involves products that require little “user interference,” like a washing machine that can be operated with the click of a button. The court found that the plaintiff did not preserve the evidence properly and that the pipe plug manufactured by Vanderlans required significant user interference or interaction, such as the decedent attempted to install it themselves with technical knowledge and various plumbing tools.

Sunbelt was also excused of any liability through the motion of summary judgment. The plaintiff’s claimed that the pipe plug they rented to the decedent was stored incorrectly, causing it to deteriorate to the point that it would be prone to a catastrophic failure. Again, the court found that there was no evidence to suggest this claim as true, mainly due to a complete lack of expert testimony.

The court ruled in favor of the defendants on August 30th, 2020, and recorded its final judgment.

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