On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Docket No. L-0210-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Messano and Kennedy.
Plaintiff Robert Reynolds appeals from the Law Division's order denying reconsideration of a prior order granting defendants Action Enterprises (Action) and Raghetti-Ridolfi (Raghetti) summary judgment and dismissing plaintiff's products liability complaint with prejudice. We have considered the arguments raised in light of the record and applicable legal standards. We reverse.
Plaintiff alleged that on October 25, 2005, while operating a go-kart purchased from and assembled by Action, the brakes failed causing him to crash and injure himself. His complaint also named as a defendant Raghetti, the go-kart's Italian manufacturer.
Discovery revealed that plaintiff had purchased a second, identical go-kart on the same day. He drove that go-kart in the parking lot of a business park without incident. On his fourth or fifth lap around the business park in the subject go-kart, plaintiff alleged he stepped on the brake and it failed. He steered the go-kart away from a building and crashed over a curb suffering multiple fractures of his right foot. Plaintiff inspected the go-kart "a few months after the accident." He noticed that the metal rod which linked the brake mechanism to the foot brake was no longer attached. A clevis pin that secured the connection was also missing.
During discovery, another defendant, Kart Warehouse U.S.A., produced the July 29, 2005 World Karting Association (WKA) pre-race technical guidelines and a McMaster-Carr catalog with technical drawings of the braking mechanism. The WKA guidelines described a "self locking clevis pin," "pass[ing] through the clevis and brake pedal," which, while "in position," "provides a positive retention." However the guidelines noted that "the clip is made of thin steel and may lose tension with use. It may also be inadvertently dislodged." Further, "[t]o be approved at pre-race tech, the clip must be secured with a wire tie . . . ."
In answers to interrogatories, Raghetti certified that it sold the go-kart to Kart Warehouse in a "partly unassembled" state. The go-kart was built "exclusively for races." Raghetti provided no "manual/handbook," and "didn't provide any installation and/or maintenance service." Raghetti asserted that the "fixing system of the brake pump to the brake pedal . . . [was] still used and . . . [was] considered extremely safe." Raghetti was unaware of any clevis clip ever breaking and asserted "the loss of [the clip was] due to incorrect installation, probably caused by the driver or by the mechanic who took care of maintenance."
On January 9, 2007, plaintiff's expert, Ronald Saxon, P.E., inspected both go-karts and reviewed other documents in preparation of his report. Saxon observed:
The cart had only a single brake, . . . [and] did not have a redundant mechanical braking system . . . . However, such a device would only have utility if the brake pedal linkage failed, and properly designed, it was reasonable to expect that the mechanical linkage would be robust and reliable. The issue facing the designers, assemblers and distributers [sic] of the [k]art was thus whether or not the linkage, as designed, was robust and reliable.
Saxon's June 2, 2008, report stated that the "critical function" of the brake system was "dependent upon the integrity of a single link" which "[had to] be eminently reliable." Reliability depended upon "[s]trength and redundancy." As to strength, Saxon concluded "[t]here were no indications that the brake link itself had failed," or that any of the various components "were not strong enough for their intended application." But, Saxon noted, there was "no redundancy in the means for retaining the clevis pin -- the link between the brake pedal and the brake operating rod."
Saxon concluded that "a critical component of the braking system, an intentionally easy to remove clevis pin with a single level of security, came free during operation, causing the loss of brakes." Saxon further opined, "The design of the cart was fundamentally defective: a critical component of the braking system was inherently defective in that retention of the clevis pin relied on the uncertain security of a fragile clip, and there was but a single level of retention."
In his deposition, Ronald E. Shook, president of Action testified that his company assembled component parts on the gokarts for final sales to customers. Shook explained that six or seven different manufacturers "suppl[ied] the products to make a complete kart." In assembling the go-karts for individual consumers, Action "follow[ed] the World Karting Association technical regulations." He further explained that those guidelines are "accept[ed] . . ...