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Burgett v. Troy-Bilt LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky

September 9, 2013

ROBERT BURGETT, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
TROY-BILT LLC, et al., Defendants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Robert Burgett, Donna Burgett, Plaintiffs: Darrell E. Sammons, LEAD ATTORNEY, Pikeville, KY; Miller Kent Carter, LEAD ATTORNEY, Miller Kent Carter & Michael Lucas, PLLC, Pikeville, KY.

For Troy-Bilt LLC, Lowe's Home Improvement, LLC, doing business as Lowe's of Paintsville, Lowe's Home Centers, Inc., doing business as Lowe's of Paintsville, Chris Edwards, Individually, also known as Christopher Edwards, Defendants: Charles Thomas Anderson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Boehl, Stopher & Graves LLP, Pikeville, KY; Christopher A. Holecek, Scott J. Robinson, LEAD ATTORNEYS, PRO HAC VICE, Peter A. Holdsworth, Wegman, Hessler & Vanderburg, Cleveland, OH.

For MTD Products, Inc., Defendant: Charles Thomas Anderson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Boehl, Stopher & Graves LLP, Pikeville, KY; Christopher A. Holecek, Scott J. Robinson, Peter A. Holdsworth, LEAD ATTORNEYS, PRO HAC VICE, Wegman, Hessler & Vanderburg, Cleveland, OH.

For Kohler Co., Defendant: Mark T. Hayden, LEAD ATTORNEY, Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP, Cincinnati, OH.

For Chris Edwards, as Manager of Lowe's of Paintsville, also known as Christopher Edwards, Official Defendant: Charles Thomas Anderson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Boehl, Stopher & Graves LLP, Pikeville, KY; Christopher A. Holecek, Scott J. Robinson, LEAD ATTORNEYS, PRO HAC VICE, Peter A. Holdsworth, Wegman, Hessler & Vanderburg, Cleveland, OH.

OPINION

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MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Amul R. Thapar, United States District Judge.

When tragedy strikes, people naturally cast about for a cause. They might attribute what happened to fate or karma; find someone else to blame; or ultimately realize that responsibility lies only with themselves. When a lawn mower accident permanently disfigured Robert Burgett's foot, he and his wife turned to this Court for answers. Based on various products liability theories, the Burgetts believe that four defendants--Troy-Bilt LLC, MTD Products, Inc., Lowe's Home Improvement, LLC, and Lowe's Home Centers, Inc.--caused their injuries. These defendants have moved for summary judgment, claiming that they are not the malefactors the Burgetts seek. Because gaps riddle the Burgetts' evidence in support of their claim, the Court will grant the defendants' motion.

BACKGROUND

The Burgetts live in Belfry, a town in the undulating hills of eastern Kentucky. R. 110 at 1. Like all good neighbors, they keep their yard tidy. For years, Robert Burgett cut his grass with a riding mower; never once did he encounter a problem. Id. Just over a year ago, this changed. Burgett was mowing his lawn when the mower allegedly tipped back and threw him from his seat. Id. Burgett claims that the driverless mower turned 180 degrees and charged downhill toward him. [1] Id. The mower's blades sliced through his foot, nearly amputating at least one toe. Id. No one witnessed the accident. However, the Burgetts' neighbor, Annabelle Runyon, testified that she heard the sound of the mower running continuously after the accident. R. 97-2 at 17-18.

The Burgetts believe that an electrical defect caused one of the mower's critical safety features, the operator presence control switch, to fail. R. 110 at 2. Under

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normal conditions, the seat switch stops the mower if the driver leaves his seat. Id. According to the Burgetts, when this switch failed, their mower ran amok without a driver at its helm-- and ultimately ploughed into Robert Burgett's foot. Id. On this theory, the Burgetts brought this products liability suit. They allege that MTD and Troy-Bilt designed a faulty product, manufactured the mower defectively, and omitted crucial warnings. See R. 1-3. The Burgetts also claim that the two Lowe's entities (together, " Lowe's" ) negligently assembled the mower. Id. And, Donna Burgett complains of the loss of her husband's consortium. Id.

The Burgetts hired one expert witness, Jay Nogan, to testify at trial, but the Court excluded his testimony. R. 110. The defendants now challenge the sufficiency of the Burgetts' remaining evidence in separate motions for summary judgment. R. 94; R. 98. The Court held a hearing on these motions, ordered supplemental briefing, and now issues its opinion in this case. See R. 111.

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment is warranted if the pleadings, discovery and disclosure materials, and affidavits show that there is " no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. To prevail, the defendants must demonstrate that undisputed evidence forecloses the Burgetts' claims or that the Burgetts cannot support their claims with admissible evidence. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The Burgetts must then respond with evidence showing a genuine factual dispute. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). Relying on pleadings or " metaphysical doubts" will not forestall summary judgment; citing to the record is essential. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007). If the Burgetts successfully rebut the defendants' showing, the Court then decides whether a reasonable juror could find for the Burgetts on each of their claims when all reasonable inferences are drawn in their favor. See id.

I. Summary Judgment Is Justified on All of the Burgetts' Claims Against MTD and Troy-Bilt.

MTD and Troy-Bilt challenge the Burgetts' five claims: (1) defective design on a negligence theory; (2) defective design on a strict liability theory; (3) defective manufacture; (4) failure to warn; and (5) loss of consortium. See R. 94-1. The record is devoid of evidence supporting key elements of the first three claims. The Burgetts concede their fourth claim, and their final claim cannot survive in the absence of an underlying tort. So, the Court must enter summary judgment against the Burgetts.

A. Troy-Bilt and MTD Are Entitled to Summary Judgment on the Design Defect Claims.

The Burgetts allege that Troy-Bilt and MTD designed a defective product. R. 1-3 at 8-10. Without evidence of causation or that the design was unreasonably dangerous, ...


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