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Mills v. Riggsbee

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington

March 21, 2014

RONALD MILLS and MALINDA MILLS, Plaintiffs,
v.
MARK S. RIGGSBEE, et al., Defendants.

OPINION & ORDER

KAREN K. CALDWELL, Chief Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants, Mark S. Riggsbee and Task Force Tips, Inc. (collectively, "Defendants"), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), seeking dismissal of the claims of the Plaintiffs, Ronald Mills and Malinda Mills (collectively, "Plaintiffs") [DE #49]. Also pending before the Court are: Defendants' motion for partial summary judgment dismissing Plaintiffs' failure to warn claim and finding that Plaintiff, Ronald Mills, was negligent as a matter of law [DE #48]; Defendants' motion in limine to exclude any evidence or reference that the Defendants' advertised and promoted the BlitzFire Monitor as eliminating water hammer [DE #73]; and Defendants' motion in limine to preclude Berea firefighters from offering opinions as to causation at trial [DE #86]. These motions are fully briefed and are ripe for review.[1]

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Defendant Task Force Tips is the manufacturer, producer and/or seller of various firefighting equipment, including a device known as the BlitzFire Monitor fire hose water regulator. The BlitzFire Monitor is a device that sits on the ground and is attached to the end of a fire department fire hose and allows firefighters to fight fires without hand-holding the fire hose. Part of the monitor's design includes an automatic shut-off system.

Plaintiffs contend that Plaintiff Ronald Mills, a firefighter for the City of Berea, was injured on October 13, 2011, when he attended a sales demonstration of the BlitzFire Monitor performed at the Berea Fire Department by Defendant Mark Riggsbee. For purposes of the demonstration, the monitor was attached to a 100-foot 2 ½" fire hose. The fire hose was then attached to a Berea Fire Department pumper truck. Mills was the engineer positioned on the pumper truck. During the demonstration, the fire hose came loose from the pumper truck, knocking Mills off his feet and causing him injury.

Plaintiffs claim that the fire hose detached from the truck because of "water hammer, " a condition that the monitor was supposed to eliminate. "Water hammer" occurs from the back flow of water when a fire hose is shut off too quickly, causing a build-up of pressure. According to Plaintiffs, during the demonstration, Riggsbee struck the monitor on the asphalt, shutting off the water stream from the hose. Plaintiffs claim that this caused water hammer to occur. Mills testified that he observed water hammer after Riggsbee shut off the monitor the first time and he thought it was going to cause someone to get hurt. Accordingly (and without telling anyone, including Riggsbee, what he had seen or what he was going to do), he moved from the rear of the pumper truck to the side and put his hand on the discharge valve to shut the water off. While Mills was at the rear of the pumper truck, Riggsbee kicked the monitor, making it shut off a second time. Plaintiffs claim that this created a second water hammer. According to Plaintiffs, the force from the water hammer caused the hose to tear apart from its coupling, blow out of the coupling at the pump panel and knock Mills off his feet, causing him injury.

Defendants deny that water hammer occurred and instead claim that the accident was caused by a faulty fire hose. The hose used in the demonstration was owned and maintained by the Berea Fire Department, not Defendants. Defendants also fault Mills for opting to attach the fire hose to the side panel of the pumper truck, which was in close proximity to the water pressure gauges and shutoff valve, rather than the rear of the pumper truck, which would have been out of harm's way. Defendants also argue that Mills testified that he was fully aware of water hammer prior to the demonstration and, further, that a fire hose can come loose if it water hammers. Defendants also criticize Mills' failure to tell anyone that he had allegedly seen water hammer occur and that he was going to move to the discharge valve to shut off the water.

Plaintiffs filed this action in Madison Circuit Court in Madison County, Kentucky on April 20, 2012 [DE #1]. Defendants subsequently removed the action to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441, and 1446. Plaintiffs initially pursued this case as primarily a products liability case, bringing claims for negligence, negligent design and/or manufacture, selling and/or demonstrating the monitor in a defective condition, unreasonably dangerous to the users thereof, breach of express and implied warranty of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose and failure to warn. [DE #1]. However, after Plaintiffs' breach of warranty claims were dismissed on Defendants' motion for summary judgment [DE #65], Plaintiffs abandoned the remaining products liability claims. At a November 15, 2013 hearing held on a Daubert motion filed by Defendants, Plaintiffs repeatedly insisted that this case was only about negligence, and clarified that their sole claim in this case was whether Riggsbee negligently continued the demonstration of the BlitzFire Monitor after the first water hammer allegedly occurred.

Defendants have moved for partial summary judgment on Plaintiffs' failure to warn claim, as well as for a finding that Plaintiff Ronald Mills was negligent as a matter of law. Defendants have also moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiffs' claims, on the grounds that Plaintiffs have failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact with respect to whether any alleged negligence by Defendants proximately caused Plaintiffs' injuries.

II. STANDARD

Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, "this Court must determine whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'" Patton v. Bearden, 8 F.3d 343, 346 (6th Cir. 1993) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986)). The evidence, all facts, and any inferences that may permissibly be drawn from the facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

Once the moving party shows that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, the nonmoving party must present "significant probative evidence" to demonstrate that "there is [more than] some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Moore v. Phillip Morris Companies, Inc., 8 F.3d 335, 340 (6th Cir. 1993). Conclusory allegations are not enough to allow a nonmoving party to withstand a motion for summary judgment. Id. at 343. "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmoving party's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [nonmoving party]." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 252. "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Id. at 249-50 (citations omitted).

III. ANALYSIS

As noted above, although Plaintiffs initially pursued this case as primarily a products liability case, after Plaintiffs' breach of warranty claims were dismissed on summary judgment, Plaintiffs have taken the position that this claim was only about negligence. Specifically, at the November 15, 2013 hearing, in response to questioning by the Court, Plaintiffs' counsel clarified that Plaintiffs' sole claim in this case was whether Riggsbee negligently continued the demonstration of the BlitzFire Monitor after the first water hammer allegedly occurred. In light of this concession, Defendants' motion for partial ...


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