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Garrett v. Crown Equipment Corporation

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 22, 2017

DORSEY GARRETT, Plaintiff,
v.
CROWN EQUIPMENT CORPORATION, Defendant.

          RULING GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge

         One evening while working at a warehouse distribution center, plaintiff Dorsey Garrett was injured after his foot slipped from the platform of a pallet truck that was manufactured by defendant Crown Equipment Corporation. Plaintiff has now brought this products liability claim against defendant, alleging that the truck was defectively designed.

         Plaintiff's claim depends on expert testimony about two alleged defects of the truck. Defendant has moved to preclude the expert's testimony and also for summary judgment. Even assuming the defects existed that plaintiff claims, I conclude that the record does not show a genuine issue of fact that any of these claimed defects caused plaintiff's injuries. Accordingly, I will grant defendant's motion for summary judgment and will otherwise deny defendant's motion to exclude the expert's testimony as moot.

         Background

         Plaintiff was hired in June 2013 at Bozzuto's, Inc., a wholesale distributor in Connecticut. Doc. #39-2 at 15. After a few days of orientation and safety training, he began work as a goods “selector.” Id. at 16-20. This work required him to use a pallet truck that was manufactured by defendant to move around the freezer area of the Bozzuto's warehouse, picking up loads of items and moving them to the warehouse bay doors, where they could be transferred to trucks for distribution. Id. at 23-28.

         The model of pallet truck operated by plaintiff was a Crown Equipment Corporation PE 3540-80. The key features of this truck are shown in the diagram below:

         (Image Omitted)

         The truck has a pair of forks that extend to carry a pallet load. On the opposite side of the truck from these forks is a platform on which the truck's operator may stand. Facing that platform is the “control handle, ” which is used to operate the truck and to apply power by means of a hand-controlled throttle, which can be rotated in either direction to propel the truck forward or backward. The “control arm” in turn connects the control handle to the body of the truck.

         Next to the base of the control arm on the body of the truck is a “coast selector” switch. This is a manually activated switch for a “coasting” feature that allows the truck to coast or glide along without further application of power by the operator at the control handle. If the “coast selector” switch is not activated, then the truck will not glide or coast once an operator stops applying power.

         Also on the main body of the truck, to the left of the control arm, is the “key switch, ” which is an ignition switch that uses a key in order to turn the truck “on” or “off” for operation. The truck is battery powered, and it has a “power disconnect” handle on the main body of the truck to the right of the control arm that can be used to cut the power to the battery. If the truck has been turned on at the key ignition switch, then its power can still be controlled by means of either plugging in or pulling out the power disconnect handle.

         On June 20, 2013, approximately two weeks into his employment at Bozzuto's, plaintiff had an accident that gave rise to the present litigation. Plaintiff parked his pallet truck outside the break room in the warehouse. After taking a break, plaintiff returned to the truck, and he reconnected the truck's battery using the “power disconnect” handle. According to plaintiff, the truck was already turned on, because the key had been snapped off while in the “on” position in the ignition switch. As plaintiff then attempted to mount the platform, his left foot slipped off, and he started to fall. To catch himself he grabbed the control handle and pulled at it in such a way that the truck suddenly moved toward him and hit into his right leg, crushing it against the wall.

         Plaintiff's expert, Paul L. Dreyer, submitted a report alleging two defects in the design of the truck. The first alleged defect was that the key in the truck could be removed from the ignition switch while the ignition was still in the “on” position. Supposedly, this defect caused plaintiff's accident, because it resulted in the truck already being turned on before plaintiff could safely mount the operator's platform.

         The second alleged defect was that the “coast activator” switch was designed and located in a way that made it too easy to activate by accident. Supposedly, this defect caused the accident because plaintiff may have accidentally activated the ...


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