Monday, November 11, 2013

Speller v. Sears, Roebuck and Co. case brief

Speller v. Sears, Roebuck and Co. case brief summary
790 N.E.2d 252 (N.Y. 2003)

Plaintiffs decedent and her estate filed an action alleging negligence, strict products liability, and breach of warranty against defendants manufacturer, retailer, and others. The Supreme Court (New York) denied defendants' request for summary judgment. The Appellate Division reversed and granted the motion, dismissing the complaint as against the manufacturer and the retailer. Plaintiffs were granted leave to appeal.


The decedent died in a house fire that also injured her seven-year-old son. It was undisputed that the fire originated in the kitchen. Plaintiffs asserted that the fire was caused by defective wiring in the refrigerator. Defendants claimed that, according to the report of the Fire Marshall, a stovetop grease fire was the cause of the conflagration.


  • The appellate court held that summary judgment was not proper, as plaintiffs raised a triable question of fact by offering competent evidence, which, if credited by the jury, was sufficient to rebut defendants' alternative cause evidence. 
  • Plaintiffs' experts consistently asserted that the fire originated in the upper right quadrant of the refrigerator and each contended the stove was not the source of the blaze. 
  • Both parties supported their positions with detailed, non-conclusory expert depositions and other submissions that explained the bases for the opinions. 
  • Because a reasonable jury could credit that proof and find that plaintiffs excluded all other causes of the fire not attributable to defendants, the case presented material issues of fact requiring a trial.


The order of the appellate court was reversed, with costs, and the motion of the manufacturer and the retailer for summary judgment was denied.

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