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State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.; Kenneth L. Cooper; and Cynthia Cooper v. Car-X Associates Corp.; and Buten

December 7, 2012

STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY CO.; KENNETH L. COOPER; AND CYNTHIA COOPER PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
CAR-X ASSOCIATES CORP.; AND BUTEN, INC. DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Siler, Circuit Judge.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PUBLICATION

Before: SILER and COOK, Circuit Judges; STEEH, District Judge.*fn1

Plaintiffs State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., Kenneth Cooper, and Cynthia Cooper (collectively "State Farm") brought this action against Car-X Associates Corp. and Buten, Inc. (collectively "Car-X") claiming negligence and breach of an express warranty after the Cooper's vehicle exploded and burned down their house. State Farm appeals the denial of their motions for directed verdict and judgment notwithstanding the verdict under their claim for breach of an express warranty. We AFFIRM.

I.

In 2007, Kenneth Cooper took his vehicle, a 1994 Buick, to the Car-X garage in Newport, KY for an oil change and possibly a new battery. Kevin Stratman, a Car-X service technician, performed the "check charging system" service on the vehicle, in part, by using a Midtronics testing device. The Midtronics device is used to determine whether the three components of the charging system -- the alternator, the battery, and the starter -- are functioning properly. Stratman also visually inspected the wires connecting the battery and the alternator that were readily visible from his vantage point above the vehicle with its hood open. The Midtronics device indicated that the battery was not functioning properly and the clerk at the front desk of the shop advised Cooper that he needed a new battery. Cooper consented and Stratman replaced the battery in the vehicle. After replacing the battery, Stratman verified that the battery, the alternator, and the starter were then functioning properly.

The invoice provided to and signed by Cooper stated, among other things, that the "CK CHARGING SYSTEM" service was performed. Additionally, the invoice stated the following:

CAR-X FULL WARRANTIES

ALL CAR-X AUTO PARTS AND SERVICES ARE UNDER WARRANTY FOR 12 MONTHS OR 12 THOUSAND MILES, WHICHEVER COMES FIRST. . . . . . . . .

SHOULD YOU EXPERIENCE ANY PROBLEMS OR ANY PARTS WEAR OUT IN THIS TIME FRAME SIMPLY PRESENT THIS SALES INVOICE TO A CAR-X AUTO SERVICE.

Cooper drove the vehicle home and did not operate it over the weekend.

On Monday, the vehicle would not start. After a jump start on the car, Cooper took the vehicle back to the same Car-X location to report his problem. The store manager, Scott Stewart, checked the charging system using the Midtronics device and verified again that the alternator, the battery, and the starter were functioning properly. The following morning, Cooper started the vehicle next to his house. While Cooper went back inside the house, the vehicle exploded, catching the house on fire. Both the home and the vehicle were a total loss.

State Farm, the Coopers' home insurer, paid for the loss of the home and its contents up to the limit of the insurance policy. The Coopers and State Farm sued Car-X under claims of negligence and breach of an express warranty. Prior to trial, the district court ruled that as a matter of law, Car-X had provided Cooper with an express warranty, covering all parts and services rendered.

At trial, experts for State Farm testified that the fire originated in the right front portion of the vehicle and that an improper connection of the alternator cable to the battery terminal produced excessive heat or a spark that ignited the fire. Car-X's expert testified that the fire originated in the right front portion of the vehicle, but that the cause of the fire was an intermittent short in the alternator cable running from the alternator to the battery. State Farm moved for a directed verdict on the express warranty claim after Car-X's opening statement and again at the close of all the evidence. Both motions were denied. The jury rendered a verdict in favor of the defendants on both claims. Subsequently, the court denied State Farm's ...


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