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Martin v. General Electric Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

February 11, 2015




Before the Court is Defendant General Electric Company's ("G.E.") "Motion for Summary Judgment."[1] Having considered the motion, the memoranda in support and in opposition, the record, and the applicable law, the Court will deny the motion.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

This litigation arises out of a December 8, 2012 fire at the residence of Dana Martin and Chequita Martin ("the Martins").[2] The incident report provided by the Houma Fire Department lists the area of fire origin as "laundry area, wash."[3] According to the Petition, which was filed on December 6, 2013 in the 32nd Judicial District Court for the Parish of Terrebonne, the fire was caused by a defective clothes dryer that was manufactured by G.E. and sold by Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. ("Home Depot").[4] The dryer has been identified as a G.E. 5.8 cubic foot Extra-Long Capacity Electric Dryer.[5] Dana Martin purchased it on July 29, 2010 and installed it himself.[6] The dryer had been in use for approximately two years at the time of the fire, [7] and it had not been repaired or serviced since its purchase; moreover, Plaintiffs had not reported any problems with it.[8]

In their Petition, the Martins allege that they suffered personal injuries as a result of the fire, and they seek damages for "past and future medical treatment, disfigurement, pain, suffering, mental anguish, loss of affection, society, guidance, counseling, earning capacity, loss of past and future wages, consortium, and enjoyment of life."[9] In addition to G.E. and Home Depot, the Martins name as defendants XYZ Insurance Company and RST Insurance Company, which allegedly provide insurance coverage to G.E. and Home Depot, respectively. G.E. was served with the Petition on December 13, 2013 and removed this matter to federal district court on January 6, 2014.[10]

On December 16, 2013, the Martins' homeowner insurance company, the Louisiana Farm Bureau ("LFB") (collectively with the Martins, "Plaintiffs"), filed a separate action against G.E. in the 32nd Judicial District Court, Parish of Terrebonne, seeking a reimbursement of $162, 656.55 which LFB allegedly paid to the Martins under their insurance policy as a result of the December 8, 2012 fire.[11] G.E. also removed that lawsuit to federal district court. On April 3, 2014, the Martins' lawsuit and LFB's lawsuit were consolidated.[12] Plaintiffs dismissed Home Depot from the consolidated lawsuit on July 15, 2014.[13]

G.E. filed the pending Motion for Summary Judgment on December 22, 2014.[14] LFB and the Martins filed separate memoranda in opposition on December 30, 2014.[15] G.E. filed a memorandum in reply on January 7, 2015.[16]

II. Parties' Arguments

A. G.E.'s Arguments in Support of Summary Judgment

G.E. argues that Plaintiffs' claims are limited to a single cause of action under the Louisiana Products Liability Act (the "LPLA"); namely, a claim that the dryer was defective in construction or composition.[17] G.E. cites Allstate Ins. Co. v. General Elec. Co. to support its argument that a plaintiff must produce evidence that a particular defect existed in the dryer at the time it left G.E.'s control.[18] Moreover, according to G.E., Plaintiffs have no direct evidence that the dryer materially deviated from G.E.'s specifications or performance standards.[19] Finally, G.E. contends that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur is inapplicable in this case because the expert testimony fails to show any possibility of defective manufacture.[20] According to G.E., "[t]he doctrine of res ipsa loquitur cannot be inferred based upon an alleged absence of evidence of improper use of the dryer."[21]

B. LFB's Arguments in Opposition

LFB concedes that the LPLA controls the current litigation and provides Plaintiffs with their exclusive remedy against G.E.[22] However, according to LFB, the LPLA does not require direct proof of a specific product defect for a plaintiff in a product liability case to prevail.[23] Rather, according to LFB, Louisiana courts applying the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur allow circumstantial evidence to prove the existence of a defect.[24] In this case, LFB contends that circumstantial evidence demonstrates that the dryer had not been modified or changed since it was manufactured, that the fire began inside the dryer, and that there is no evidence of improper use or improper care.[25]

LFB next distinguishes the present case from Allstate, where the dryer at issue was purchased "used" from a third party that had rented it out short-term. Here, according to LFB, Plaintiffs purchased the dryer new and never reported any problems with it. Moreover, LFB contends, the expert testimony in this matter indicates that there is no evidence that the dryer was modified since it was manufactured, the appropriate electrical cord was installed correctly, and the dryer was vented correctly.[26] Additionally, LFB argues that, unlike in Allstate, the dryer in this case was tested for flammable liquids, and ...

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