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Rozbicki v. Max Cycles CT, LLC

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 27, 2017

ZBIGNIEW ROZBICKI, Plaintiff,
v.
MAX CYCLES CT, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          RULING AND ORDER

          Robert N. Chatigny United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Zbigniew Rozbicki brings this action against Max Cycles CT, LLC (“Max Cycles CT”) and BMW of North America, LLC (“BMW”) seeking damages for injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident. The complaint alleges that the accident was caused by the failure of the motorcycle's anti-lock brake system (“ABS”), misrepresentations regarding the safety of the motorcycle and inadequate dashboard warnings of the ABS failure.[1] Max Cycles CT has moved for summary judgment as to Count II, arguing that it is incorrectly named as a defendant. In response, plaintiff has moved for leave to amend to substitute the proper defendant. In addition, both defendants have moved for summary judgment contending that plaintiff cannot prove his claims at trial. For the reasons that follow, plaintiff's motion for leave to amend is granted and the motions for summary judgment are denied.

         I. Background

         On August 26, 2012, plaintiff was operating his 2007 BMW K1200Rsport motorcycle in Ancram, New York. According to his account, he was operating the motorcycle on Country Route 3 when he slowed down to make a turn onto Roche Drive. He was leaning slightly left and traveling approximately thirty miles per hour. When he applied the front brake with normal, gradual pressure, the motorcycle's front wheel locked and the motorcycle went down. At the time of the accident, Rozbicki had forty-five years of experience riding motorcycles with and without ABS.

         Approximately one month before the accident, in mid-June 2012, Rozbicki noticed that the “BRAKE FAILURE” light on the motorcycle dashboard was illuminated. He brought the motorcycle to a friend, Rick Bell, and asked him to check the brakes. Per Bell's instructions, Rozbicki made an appointment at Max Cycles CT for June 29, 2012, and took his motorcycle there for brake repairs that day. At the conclusion of the appointment, Rozbicki received a receipt for work performed that stated: “CODES STORED FOR NO POWER TO ABS PUMP. FAULT PRESENT.”

         II. Max Cycles CT's Motion for Summary Judgment on Count II and Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend

         In Count II, plaintiff alleges that Max Cycles CT is strictly liable as the seller of the motorcycle. To recover under strict liability, the plaintiff must show that the defendant was a product seller. Metro. Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Deere & Co., 302 Conn. 123, 131, 25 A.3d 571, 579 (2011). Max Cycles CT moves for summary judgment on the ground that it did not sell the motorcycle. ECF No. 96. In response, plaintiff moves for leave to amend to substitute the proper defendant, Max Stratton d/b/a Max BMW Motorcycles (“Stratton”). ECF No. 111.[2]Max Cycles CT argues that the statute of limitations has passed and an amended complaint adding a new defendant to Count II should not be allowed to relate back to the time of the original filing.

         An amended complaint substituting a party as a defendant can relate back if the party received notice of the lawsuit such that it will not be prejudiced in defending on the merits and knew or should have known the action would have been brought against it but for a mistake. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(1). The rule “asks what the prospective defendant knew or should have known . . . not what the plaintiff knew or should have known at the time of filing [the] original complaint.” Krupski v. Costa Crociere S. p. A., 560 U.S. 538, 548 (2010).

         I conclude that the proposed amended complaint naming Stratton as the defendant on Count II satisfies the requirements of Rule 15(c)(1). Based on the parties' submissions, it is reasonable to infer that Stratton had timely notice of this lawsuit. There are several Max BMW locations and it appears that Stratton owns and controls all of them. It would be surprising if Stratton did not receive notice of the lawsuit soon after it was filed. There is no suggestion that Stratton will be prejudiced in defending on the merits if the amended pleading is allowed. And it is reasonable to think Stratton knew or should have known the plaintiff made a mistake in naming Max Cycles CT as the seller. Therefore, plaintiff's motion for leave to amend is granted and Max Cycles CT's motion for summary judgment as to Count II is denied as moot.

         III. Defendants' Joint Motion for Summary Judgment

         Defendants move for summary judgment contending that plaintiff cannot prove any of his claims at trial. They contend that whether the ABS failed and the ABS warnings were inadequate are matters requiring expert testimony and that plaintiff's expert witnesses should not be permitted to testify. In the absence of competent and reliable expert testimony on accident reconstruction and warning systems, they argue, plaintiff's claims must fail as a matter of law.[3] In addition, they contend that plaintiff cannot meet his burden of proving that the warnings he claims should have been given would have altered his behavior to prevent the accident. I agree that expert testimony is needed. I also agree that plaintiff may well have difficulty persuading a jury that his behavior would have been altered. In the absence of a better developed record, however, I conclude that the motion for summary judgment must be denied.

         A. Expert Testimony

         Plaintiff has disclosed two liability experts: Kristopher Seluga and Albert Angelovich. Seluga has testified that the accident occurred when the front tire of the motorcycle skidded on gravel after Rozbicki applied the brakes and the accident would not have occurred if the motorcycle's ABS system had been working properly. Angelovich has testified that the ABS warning signal on the dashboard of the motorcycle should have included “ABS” lettering, rather than simply stating “BRAKE FAILURE, ” and the absence of a proper ABS warning signal caused the accident. Defendants contend that the testimony of both witnesses is inadmissible in its entirety.

         Under Federal Rule of Evidence 702, expert testimony is admissible if it will help the jury understand the evidence or determine a fact in issue, is based on sufficient facts or data, is the product of reliable principles and methods, and the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case. Normally, a challenge to the admissibility of expert testimony is presented by a motion in limine under Federal Rule of Evidence 104(a). When a motion in limine challenges the admissibility of expert testimony, the Court may, if necessary, conduct an evidentiary ...


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