Product Liability Expert Witnesses Clash in Burn Case

Summary: Product Liability Expert Witnesses on disagree on whether an electric stove was defective and unsafe for use.

Facts: In Astacio v Birdie 141 Broadway Assoc., 2020 NY Slip Op 31074(U), Supreme Court, New York County, plaintiff lived in an apartment in New York.  In early 2014, the gas service to her building was stopped, and she could not use her gas stove.  Defendant provided residents with a two burner electric stoves.

The plaintiff acknowledged that she had used many different electric stoves, as the gas service to the building was consistently interrupted.  The plaintiff testified that she used many electric stoves during this time, as they would stop working.  Each time she was provided with a new one.  She denied ever damaging the units.

Other tenants also experienced this same problem of the electric stoves malfunctioning.

The stoves provided by the defendant had two burners.  There was a control knob for power and adjusting the heat.  These controls had a light that indicated whether the burner was on or was off. When not in use, plaintiff left the electric stove on a wooden board.  This board was placed on top of the non-working stove.  She reported that when she was done using the electric stove, she would leave it plugged in, but turned the knobs to the off position.

One day plaintiff noticed that the plastic knobs on the electric stove had softened by the heat.  She did not notice any cracks.  Even after this notice, she used the electric stove by placing a pot on the stove’s right burner.  The indicator lights did not illuminate.

She poured oil into a pot that was on on the burner.  There was no evidence that the stove was turned on.  She reached into one of the overhead cabinets to retrieve something when a can fell into the oil, which was hot.  It splashed on her and burned her.

Plaintiff admitted that she did not read the instruction manuals after the first stove she received.  She had the stove for about 14 days prior to the accident.  She had never made complaints about the functioning of the stove.

At his deposition, the defendant admitted that he has supplied the electric stoves, and that they were distributed to the tenants.  The superintendent stated that he was unaware that any stove had been returned.  He was also unaware of any complaints.

The maker of the electric stoves testified that there are warning labels that are attached to the boxes and the stove parts, and instruction manuals that accompany the stoves in
accordance with UL 1026.  The director of the company testified they were unaware of any complaints concerning the safety or use the stoves.

Discussion: The maker’s Engineering Expert Witness examined the product, and found it had a mark reflecting it complied with safety standards.  He testified the plastic housing around the right control knob was damaged, and that the knob itself was deformed. When he plugged in the stove, one of the burners remained on no matter the position of the knob.  The knob could also be turned past the position of high in either direction.  There was also a smell emanating from the stove.  This expert witness testified the was made safe, but was used by the plaintiff when it was damaged.

Plaintiff’s expert witness testified that he examined both the plaintiff’s stove, and other similar models.  He observed problems with the design of the unit, and that the burner control knob was disconnected from the control switch.  He did not believe the damage to the knob caused the accident.  This Product Liability Expert Witness thought the problem was a manufacturing defect in the overheating of the unit, and not from misuse by the plaintiff.

Conclusion: Motion for summary judgement for the building owner was granted.

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