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Alfred Degennaro v. Rally Manufacturing Inc.

November 2, 2011

ALFRED DEGENNARO,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
RALLY MANUFACTURING INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheridan, U.S.D.J.

Memorandum and Order

This matter comes before the Court on defendants Rally Manufacturing, Inc. ("Rally") and Pep Boys--Manny Moe & Jack of Delaware Inc.'s ("Pep Boys") motion for partial summary judgment.

On January 30, 2009, plaintiff Alfred DeGennaro ("Plaintiff") filed a complaint against Rally and Pep Boys (collectively "Defendants") which sets forth eleven counts that can be summarized as claims of: (1) negligence against Rally, Pep Boys, and John Doe packaging company; (2) recklessness and wanton negligence against Rally, Pep Boys, and John Doe packaging company; (3) strict products liability against Rally and Pep Boys; (4) breach of contract against Pep Boys; (5) breach of express warranties against Rally and Pep Boys; (6) breach of implied warranties against Rally and Pep Boys.

Defendants seek summary judgment dismissal of Plaintiff's punitive damages claims against Rally and Pep Boys. (Defendants' Moving Br., p. 1). Pep Boys further seeks summary judgment on the product liability claims in their entirety. (Defendants' Moving Br., p. 2). For the reasons set forth below, this Court grants in part and denies in part the Defendants' motion.

I

The following summary of the facts is primarily drawn from the moving party's statement of undisputed facts. The facts are supplemented with allegations in the complaint and Plaintiff's submitted evidence where the Plaintiff has contested the moving party's facts. On or about February 15, 2007, Plaintiff purchased a Rally "Boost-It" battery pack from Pep Boys. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶¶ 1-2). The product was packaged within a heat-sealed PVC wrapper. (Complaint, ¶ 13). Affixed to the Boost-It was a warning label stating that "[f]ailure to follow instructions may cause damage or explosion hazard." (Plaintiff's Opposition Br., Ex. F). The unit also came with a separate instruction sheet including cautions about the potentially flammable or explosive aspects of the product's lead-acid battery.*fn1 (Plaintiff's Opposition Br., Ex. G).

Soon after Plaintiff left the Pep Boys store, the Boost-It unit spontaneously exploded in his hands. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 3; Complaint, ¶ 7). Plaintiff suggests that combustible gases collected within the heat-sealed plastic packaging of the Boost-It and then exploded. (Complaint, ¶ 13). Plaintiff's expert witness Robert Hamlen, PhD., posited that the Boost-It's heat-sealed packaging design was defective and that this defect "should have been apparent to the designers." (Plaintiff's Opposition Br., Ex. H-2). Dr. Hamlen also asserted that car mechanics and "personnel of a company dealing with lead-acid batteries" are familiar with the danger posed by unventilated lead-acid batteries. (Plaintiff's Opposition Br., Ex. H-3). In their answer, Rally conceded that the heat-sealed packaging for Plaintiff's Boost-It was defective because it did not allow for sufficient ventilation. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 4).

Plaintiff's Boost-It was part of a two thousand unit order produced on Rally's behalf by a Chinese manufacturer. (Plaintiff's Opposition Br., p. 3, Ex. E-1 & Ex. J-13). On January 16, 2006, before units from this order were manufactured, Rally completed an engineering report on a sample unit. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 7). The January 16th report identified no defects and the production sample was approved. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 7). However, the report indicates that no packaging was tested. (Plaintiff's Opposition Br., Ex. J-13, J-15). On April 3, 2006, before units from the Chinese order were distributed, Rally completed another engineering test report. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 8). This report stated that all aspects of the sample unit passed inspection, including the packaging. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 8); see also Plaintiff's Opposition Br., Ex. J-16, J-18).

Prior to the explosion of Plaintiff's Boost-It, Rally knew of at least one Boost-It unit which appears to have exploded in a similar fashion. On November 29, 2006, Rally's President Wayne Yodzio received an e-mail containing pictures of a damaged Boost-It from an employee of AutoZone Mexico. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 9). On the next day, November 30th, Mr. Yodzio e-mailed a response to AutoZone Mexico stating that Rally had "never experienced a significant failure on this item." (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 13; Plaintiff's Opposition Br., Ex. J-11). Mr. Yodzio reported that Rally's head engineer had reviewed the pictures, prior Boost-It engineering reports, and Rally's customer complaint files. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 13). Mr. Yodzio further reported that:

[O]ur assessment is that the unit was damaged or dropped during shipping. In addition, it does not appear from the photo that the battery exploded which was my biggest concern. From the pictures it appears that the plastic housing exploded. We would like to receive the damaged unit as soon as possible so we can have our engineering department evaluate the actual cause of the damage.

Plaintiff's Opposition Br., Ex. J-11.

Rally tested the remnants of the exploded Boost-It from AutoZone Mexico and memorialized the results in a January 31, 2007 engineering report. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 17; see also Plaintiff's Opposition Br., Ex. J-2, J-19). The engineering report also references another damaged Boost-It; the genesis of that unit is unexplained. (Plaintiff's Opposition Br., Ex. J-19). The report describes both units' casings as "broken and/or damaged extensively." (Plaintiff's Opposition Br., Ex. J-19). The January 31st report concludes that "[b]oth products [were] damaged during shipment" and suggests replacing the units or providing a refund. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 18; see also Plaintiff's Opposition Br., Ex. J-19). The report does not identify a ventilation problem or any other design defects in the product.

Rally conducted further testing on the Boost-It after the Plaintiff's unit exploded in February 2007. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 20). This testing resulted in an engineering report, dated March 12, 2007, which identified a defect in the Boost- It's heat-sealed packaging. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 20). On March 26, 2007, Rally formalized an "Engineering Change Notice" ordering that manufacturers omit the "heat-seal" on certain parts of the Boost-It's plastic packaging. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶ 21; see also Defendants' Moving Br., Ex. L).

Rally also commissioned a report on the Boost-It from an independent testing company, Intertek ETL Semko ("Intertek"). The April 23, 2007 report included analysis of both a new Boost-It and a damaged unit. (Plaintiff's Opposition Br., Ex. I). Intertek's report did not identify any packaging defect or ventilation concern and stated that:

Review of the damaged product showed damage . . . consistent with results experienced from a drop of the product. If there were any undue internal pressures within the enclosure, the impact from the drop could cause the enclosure damage, ...


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