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Geraczynski v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation

United States District Court, Third Circuit

November 1, 2013

WILLIAM GERACZYNSKI and CHRISTINE GERACZYNSKI, Plaintiffs,
v.
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION, d/b/a AMTRAK, et al., Defendants.

OPINION

STANLEY R. CHESLER, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court upon the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants SAFCO Products Company ("SAFCO"), Liberty Diversified International ("Liberty Diversified"), Staples, Inc. ("Staples") and Corporate Express ("CE") (collectively, the "Moving Defendants"). Opposition to the motion has been filed by Plaintiffs William and Christine Geraczynski and by Defendant Oasyschair Co., Ltd. ("Oasyschair"). The Court has considered the papers filed by the parties and proceeded to issue its ruling based on the written submissions and without oral argument, as authorized by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons expressed below, the motion for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

On April 20, 2011, while attending a job briefing and safety meeting in the course of his employment with Defendant Amtrak, Plaintiff William Geraczynski ("Geraczynski") suffered injuries when the chair in which he was seated collapsed, causing Geraczynski to fall to the floor. The chair was located in the office room trailer at Amtrak's Sunnyside Yard facility in Queens, New York. Geraczynski, a resident of New Jersey, initially filed suit in this Court against Amtrak only, asserting a claim pursuant to the Federal Employers' Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. § 51, but later amended his Complaint to name additional defendants and assert product defect claims under the New Jersey Product Liability Act, N.J.S.A. § 2A:58C-1, et seq., and the common law theories of breach of express warranty and negligence.

The subject chair was a "Nesting Chair" model number 3480 BL manufactured by Defendant Oasyschair. While the parties dispute which entity controlled the design of the chair, the record contains evidence that it was designed by Oasyschair in collaboration with Defendant SAFCO, or at the very least according to input and specifications provided by SAFCO. SAFCO, a wholly owned subsidiary of Defendant Liberty Diversified, was the chair's distributor. SAFCO purchased the Nesting Chair from Oasyschair and sold it to Defendant Staples and/or Corporate Express (a wholly owned subsidiary of Staples), which in turn sold it to Amtrak.

According to Plaintiff's expert, George P. Widas, a professional engineer, the subject chair failed due to a manufacturing defect. Specifically, he stated that the steel reinforcing pin in the lower seat back was not inserted to the proper depth, preventing the chair from tolerating the weight load for which it was designed. In his opinion, had the chair been manufactured properly, with the reinforcing pin inserted according to the design, it would have sustained the force and weight of someone sitting in the chair and leaning back on it. He testified at his deposition:

Q. What about this chair did you find defective or improper?
A. It wasn't manufactured according to the design, which generated excessive stresses under foreseeable loading less than its design tolerance and it failed readily as a loading considerably less than its design tolerance.
Q. Can you tell a lay jury, pretend a lay jury is here in front of you. Can you tell them what you are talking about?
A. The chair was designed to be strong enough for somebody to sit in it and exert force to the back of the chair. This chair wasn't built according to that design. It was built very weak and when somebody leaned against the back of it the right way it broke. It was at a very weak level.
Q. Is that the nature of your opinion with respect to the chair?
A. Yes.
* * *
Q. Your allegation is that this chair was assembled incorrectly?
A. Yes. Manufactured, when I said assembled I mean the reinforcing pin was not inserted to a proper depth ...

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