United States District Court, D. Connecticut
FREDERICK KLORCZYK, JR. et al., as co-administrators of the Estate of Christian Klorczyk, Plaintiffs,
SEARS, ROEBUCK & CO. et al., Defendants.
ORDER DENYING MOTION TO PRECLUDE AND GRANTING IN PART
AND DENYING IN PART MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
JEFFREY ALKER MEYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
a case about the tragic death of a young man named Christian
Klorczyk. He died in March 2011 when the car he was working
on in his family garage fell and crushed him. Plaintiffs
Frederick and Lynne Klorczyk are Christian's parents and
the executors of his estate. They claim that Christian died
because of a defective jack stand that allowed the car to
fall on him. They have sued Sears, Roebuck & Co. and
several other companies that they allege designed,
manufactured, and sold the jack stand. Defendants deny that
Christian used their jack stand or that their jack stand was
me are four pending motions. First, defendants move to
preclude the testimony of plaintiffs' principal expert
witness, Frederick Heath. I will deny this motion, because I
conclude that defendants' objections go to weight and not
admissibility of this expert testimony.
defendants move for summary judgment on grounds that
plaintiffs cannot prevail on multiple elements of their claim
under the Connecticut Products Liability Act. I will deny
this motion because I conclude that genuine fact issues
remain as to causation, design defect, adequacy of warnings,
and foreseeable misuse.
defendants Shinn Fu Corporation and Shinn Fu Company of
America move for summary judgment on grounds that they were
not sellers within the responsible chain of commerce to be
held liable under the Connecticut Products Liability Act. I
will grant this motion as to Shinn Fu Corporation but deny it
as to Shinn Fu Company of America.
defendants argue that there is no genuine fact issue to
support plaintiffs' claim for punitive damages. I will
deny this motion on the ground that there is a genuine issue
of fact to show recklessness sufficient to allow for a jury
to consider whether to award punitive damages.
facts laid out here are taken from the parties'
submissions and viewed in the light most favorable to the
events of March 11, 2011
afternoon of March 11, 2011, Christian Klorczyk was
performing an oil change on his family's BMW sedan in
Waterford, Connecticut. Christian was a University of
Connecticut senior. At the time of the accident, he was home
for spring break, and his parents and brothers were away from
the house at the time. Doc. #302-1 at 8, 10-14, 39-42. After
Christian raised the car to work underneath it, the car fell
on and killed him.
car is elevated for purposes of under-carriage maintenance in
a garage, there are at least two kinds of equipment that are
commonly used. The first is a “jack” or
“floor jack” that is used to raise the car in the
first instance. The second is a “jack stand” that
may be used to support the car after it has already been
raised using a floor jack.
central fact in dispute in this case is what type of device
was holding up the car before it fell on Christian.
Plaintiffs argue that Christian used a single model 50163
Sears jack stand to support the car when it fell, but
defendants contend that Christian raised and supported the
car with a floor jack that plaintiffs do not allege was
defective. Although they do not dispute that their jack stand
was in the garage that day, they dispute that Christian used
their jack stand at all. Doc. #302 at 2 (¶¶ 3-5);
Doc. #296-1 at 13-17.
bought the jack stand at issue from a Sears store on January
1, 2011, and no one had used it before. Doc. #302-4 at 5-6,
17, 19. Assuming that the car was resting on a jack stand, it
is undisputed that the jack stand was not overloaded when the
car fell. Doc. #302 at 20 (¶ 59).
parents, Frederick and Lynne Klorczyk, were the first people
to enter the garage after the car fell. They returned home
together at about 3:30 p.m. Doc. #302-1 at 14; Doc. #302-4 at
27-28. Lynne opened the door to the garage from the house and
saw Christian's legs sticking out from under the
BMW's front bumper. Doc. #302-1 at 17-19. She called out
to Christian, who did not respond. Id. at 18. She
then called the Waterford Police Department. Doc. #302 at 3
(¶ 8); Doc. #302-1 at 18-19; Doc. #302-4 at 30. A few
minutes later, she opened the garage's center bay door.
Doc. #302-1 at 30.
saw that, as he had previously taught Christian to do when
working on the BMW, the front passenger-side of the car had
been raised and the front passenger-side tire placed beneath
the front passenger-side brake rotor. Doc. #302-4 at 15-16,
30, 33; see Doc. #302-15. The BMW's front
passenger-side was now tilted downward, and the exposed brake
rotor was not in contact with the removed tire. Doc. #302-4
at 29-30, 32-33.
ran to the side of the car, where the Klorczyks saw the
car's transmission assembly crushing Christian's
face, Christian's chest under equipment around the rear
engine, and Christian's right hand holding the wrench,
which was connected to the oil drain plug. Doc. #302-1 at
27-29, 31; Doc. #302-4 at 29-30, 39-40; see also
Doc. #302-10 at 4-5.
also observed the jack stand beneath the BMW's front
passenger-side. It rested on its side with the ratchet bar
fully retracted. Doc. #302-4 at 30, 34-35, 41-42, 59-60. The
car's underside was not in contact with the jack stand.
Id. at 30, 34-35. The other three jack stands in the
set stood next to one another away from the BMW on the other
side of the car. Id. at 62-63.
garage also contained a Sears Craftsman floor jack. Frederick
noted that the floor jack paralleled the BMW, with its
lifting arm fully depressed and lifting handle removed.
Id. at 35-38. Frederick had taught Christian to
position the floor jack this way after lifting a load with
the floor jack and transferring that load to a jack stand.
Id. at 13-15.
used the floor jack so that he could raise the car off of
Christian. Id. at 30-31, 35-38, 55-58. Geoffrey
Hausmann was the first emergency responder on the scene; he
arrived as Frederick was attempting to engage the floor
jack's lifting handle in order to elevate the floor
jack's lifting arm. Doc. #302-5 at 3-6, 10, 12. Frederick
then inserted the lifting handle into the socket, wheeled the
floor jack under the car's passenger side, and then
pumped the handle to raise the lifting arm-and with it raise
the car off of Christian. Doc. #302-1 at 23-24; Doc. #302-4
at 55-56. Hausmann also observed the jack stand beneath the
BMW's front passenger side. Doc. #302-5 at 5-7. Lynne
then watched Frederick crawl under the BMW and upright the
jack stand. Doc. #302-1 at 37; Doc. #302-4 at 31, 38-39, 61.
parties' expert reports about the accident
and defendants have both called on experts to reconstruct how
the car fell. Plaintiffs have retained Frederick Heath as
their principal expert witness. He prepared an initial report
on the accident, and then prepared a rebuttal to the report
of defendants' expert, James Sprague. See Doc.
#295-2; Doc. #296-9; Doc. #295-4.
initial report concluded that the most likely explanation for
the accident was that the jack stand had experienced a
phenomenon known as "false
engagement." This diagram shows the model 50163 jack
stand's key features:
#302-4 at 72 fig. 1. The model 50163 jack stand includes a
pyramidal base frame and a retractable ratchet bar rising
from the frame that can support a heavy object. See
Id. at 72-73. The ratchet bar has a number of
"teeth" that fit against the pawl. Ibid.
Ordinarily, a ratchet bar tooth should rest firmly in place
against the pawl's body. Id. 72-73.
false engagement, only the tooth edge contacts the pawl tip,
and friction between the two rough surfaces allows the
ratchet bar to rest in place so as to appear fully engaged.
Doc. #295-2 at 16; Doc. #302-14 at 3-4; Doc. #302-16. When
false engagement occurs, the ratchet bar and pawl are much
less secure, and an outside force can cause the ratchet bar
to slip out of place and collapse back into the base,
allowing anything the ratchet bar has lifted to fall.
See Doc. #295-2 at 16-17.
Sprague report opines that instead of a jack stand failure
taking place, Christian lifted the car only on the floor
jack, from which the car slipped and fell, leaving scrape
marks along the car's side. Doc. #296-9 at 4, 6-7. The
report disagrees with the Klorczyks' testimony about
events on the day of the accident that the initial Heath
report accepts. Id. at 6. Plaintiffs dispute the
Sprague report's weight and significance, arguing that
the scrape marks on the BMW probably came from frequent
winter driving, and also challenging the report's
assumptions about how Christian was positioned beneath the
car as inconsistent with their own accident scene
observations and the jack stand's height. See
Doc. #302 at 6-8 (¶¶ 16-17).
rebuttal report takes issue with various aspects of the
Sprague report. The Heath rebuttal report opines that the
jack stand could have elevated the car high enough for
Christian to have fit underneath, and that the location of
Christian's injuries was consistent with how witnesses
described his location. Doc. #295-4 at 3-7. The rebuttal also
opines that a floor jack collapse could not have caused the
car to fall-reporting that the floor jack would need to be
acted on by over 400 pounds of external force to slip out
from under the car, and that no such force was available.
Id. at 5-6.
jack stand's manufacture and sale
purchased the jack stand from the Sears department store in
Waterford. Doc. #305 at 3 (¶ 10). Sears ordered the jack
stand directly from defendant MVP (HK) Industries on June 1,
2010. Doc. #305 at 2-3 (¶ 7). Defendant Wei Fu
manufactured the jack stand. Doc. #256 at 4 (¶ 16). MVP
shipped the jack stand via UPS directly to Sears on October
21, 2010. Doc. #305 at 3 (¶ 9).
other Shinn Fu companies
argue that the jack stand's chain of commerce also
includes Wei Fu and MVP's parent company, Shinn Fu
Corporation (SFC), as well as their corporate affiliate Shinn
Fu Company of America (SFA).
Hung founded SFC in Taiwan in 1971. Doc. #305-8 at 10. He
died around 2014, ibid., but his wife, Vickie Huang,
and children Victor, Betty, and Angela Hung have served on
SFC's board of directors. Doc. #305-4 at 2; Doc. #305-8
at 13-14. The Hung family still owns SFC, and Victor, Betty,
and Angela Hung have all served as either the top SFC
executive or as vice presidents. Doc. #305-8 at 13-14. The
Hung family owns MVP with one other shareholder, and they
made up its board of directors and oversaw MVP's
day-to-day operations in Hong Kong from Taiwan. Doc. #305-7
at 9-11. Vickie Huang also served as the general manager and
indirect owner of Wei Fu. Doc. #305-4 at 2; Doc. #305-6 at
11, 20; Doc. #305-8 at 16. She ran Wei Fu's day-to-day
operations in Guangdong Province, China from Taiwan. Doc.
#305-6 at 8, 11-12.
a wholly owned subsidiary of SFC based in Kansas City,
Missouri. Doc. #305-8 at 8, 15; Doc. #305-10 at 30. Vickie
Huang's brother, Steven Huang, is SFA's president and
chief operating officer. Doc. #305-10 at 5, 7. Steven Huang,
Vickie Huang, and Victor, Betty, and Angela Hung are all on
SFA's Board of Directors. Doc. #305-4 at 2; Doc. #305-10
at 6-7. Betty Hung is the SFA's CEO, but does not keep an
office in the United States. Doc. #305-10 at 8.
2011 presentation, SFC identified Wei Fu, MVP, and SFA as
part of its “Affiliated Global Operations” and
stated that it “supplies product development and
manufacturing services to Shinn Fu affiliated companies
throughout the world.” Doc. #305-1 at 4, 8. In the
opinion of Roger Claypool-a former SFA employee-all corporate
decision-making at the Shinn Fu companies ultimately resided
with the Hung family. Doc. #305-5 at 26. Claypool testified
that MVP belonged to SFC's global business operations,
id. at 12; that SFA was SFC's American
satellite, id. at 25; and that SFC had ultimate
decision-making authority over SFA, MVP, and Wei Fu's
decisions, id. at 25-26. Claypool admitted, however,
that he did not know about defendants' internal financial
arrangements. Doc. #297-17 at 6-7.
SFA had a sales representative agreement between them when
the jack stand sale occurred. Doc. #305 at 8 (¶ 30).
Under the agreement's terms, MVP would pay SFA to provide
“(a) Lab testing services; (b) Show management; (c)
OIPM support, and (d) Customer phone support.”
Ibid. (¶ 31). MVP and SFA first entered into
the agreement in 2006. Doc. #305-14 at 2-3, 5. SFA would act
as MVP's sales agent in the United States and provide
information to MVP about American market conditions, while
MVP would pay SFA a 1.5% sales commission. Id. at 3.
That agreement involved the model 50163 jack stand, Doc.
#305-7 at 21- 22, and it was executed contemporaneously with
a sales agreement for jack stands between MVP and Sears. Doc.
#305-9 at 20.
SFA then amended their agreement several times. From June 1,
2008, MVP stopped paying sales commissions to SFA. Instead,
MVP started paying SFA a service charge and started
reimbursing SFA for two of SFA's sales employees'
services. Doc. #305-14 at 6-11. The service charge initially
totaled $45, 000 per year, and the employee reimbursements
totaled slightly over $93, 000 per year. Id. at 6.
SFC, SFA, MVP, and Wei Fu shared a common insurance policy
when the jack stand was sold. Doc. #305 at 9 (¶ 33). The
policy lists SFC and MVP as the named insureds, with their
address the same as that of SFA's headquarters. Doc.
#305-15 at 2. The policy lists SFA and Wei Fu as additional
insureds alongside numerous other Shinn Fu entities around
the world. Id. at 3. The policy designated SFA's
general counsel, Arthur Chaykin, as the claims administrator.
Id. at 6. SFA's corporate representative
testified that the common policy was a cost-saving measure
because SFA could purchase insurance at the best rate for the
other corporate entities. Doc. #305 at 9-10 (¶ 36); Doc.
#305-10 at 11.
and manufacture of the jack stand
Sears model 50163 jack stand was designed in the mid-2000s
and shares a history with earlier SFA jack stands. SFA was
responsible for developing and designing the jack stands sold
under its brands, and at the directive of Michael Hung tested
ratchet bars and sent jack stand specifications to Wei Fu as
early as the 1990s. Doc. #305-5 at 10-11. Wei Fu began
manufacturing ratchet-and-pawl jack stands for SFA in 2003,
and would continue doing so until 2012. Doc. #305-6 at 22.
Among Wei Fu's products was the model T6904 SFA Pro-Lift
brand four-ton jack stand. Doc. #305-6 at 23.
November of 2006, an email was circulated among SFA, SFC,
MVP, and Wei Fu discussing the need to develop a new four-ton
jack stand for Sears with a Sears model number. Doc. #305-17
at 2. Between December 2006 and March 2007, staff at SFA, Wei
Fu, and MVP sent a series of emails conflating the model
T6904 jack stand with the new jack stand to be manufactured
for Sears. Doc. #305-6 at 39-41; Doc. #305-18 at 2-3; Doc.
#305-19. Betty Hung at SFC also received a pair of these
emails, Doc. #305-17 at 2. In 2011, MVP would send an email
to Sears describing the model 50163 jack stand and the T6904
jack stand as the same. Doc. #305-19 at 3. An SFC manager was
also listed as a recipient of the email. Ibid.
began manufacturing the model 50163 jack stand around April
2007. Doc. #305-6 at 25. The model 50163 jack stand had the
internal model number T37401, and had the same design,
locking system, safety features, and load capacity as the
model T6904 jack stand. Ibid.; Doc. #305-16 at 8-9,
18, 23. The jack stand's design complied with industry
safety standards for automotive lifting devices promulgated
by the Portable Automotive Lifting ...