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From Products Liability Law Daily, November 4, 2013

Nesting chair distributor granted summary judgment as “innocent seller”

By Kathleen Kennedy-Luczak, J.D.

Summary judgment was granted to the distributor of a nesting chair that was sued under the New Jersey Product Liability Act and state claims of negligence and breach of express warranty, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey ruled in an unpublished decision (Geraczynski v. National Railroad Passenger Corp., d/b/a Amtrak, et al., November 1, 2013, Chesler, S.). The distributor satisfied the statute’s “innocent seller” provision by filing the required affidavit.

Background. While attending a meeting in the course of his employment with Amtrak, William Geraczynski suffered injuries when the chair on which he was sitting collapsed, causing him to fall to the floor. Initially, Geraczynski sued Amtrak only under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act but later amended his complaint to name additional defendants and assert product defect claims. Geraczynski brought claims under the New Jersey Product Liability Act (NJPLA) and the common law theories of breach of express warranty and negligence against the chair’s manufacturer, Oasyschair, distributor, SAFCO, a wholly owned subsidiary of Liberty Diversified International (Liberty), and Staples and/or Corporate Express (CE), a subsidiary of Staples, which sold the chair to Amtrak. SAFCO, Liberty, Staples, and CE filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that they were innocent sellers under the NJPLA and, therefore, were relieved of liability.

Innocent seller. Both manufacturers and sellers are exposed to liability under the NJPLA. However, an “innocent” seller can be relieved of liability if it can demonstrate that it had “no significant responsibility for the alleged product defect and the manufacturer is amenable to service of process and is likely to be able to satisfy any judgment.” In order to avail itself of the immunity provided in the statute, a seller must be innocent of responsibility for the product and the injured party must retain a claim against the manufacturer. Further, the statute requires a seller to submit an affidavit certifying the correct identity of the manufacturer of the product that caused the alleged injury.

Affidavit required. As the basis for the motion for summary judgment and to meet the burden as “innocent sellers,” the defendants were required to file an affidavit certifying the correct identity of the manufacturer. However, only defendant SAFCO complied with the statute and submitted the affidavit of its Director of Global Sourcing. The affidavit identified Oasyschair as the product manufacturer. SAFCO established that it was not the chair’s manufacturer and played no role in the creation of the alleged defect which caused the chair to collapse. Indeed, plaintiff’s expert testified at his deposition that the chair collapsed due to a manufacturing defect, not a design defect. Neither plaintiffs nor Oasyschair brought forth any evidence to dispute the facts as stated in SAFCO’s affidavit. Further, plaintiff can pursue a viable claim against Oasyschair since it is already involved in the case. SAFCO satisfied its burden of establishing the affirmative innocent seller defense as set forth in the statute. Therefore, motion for summary judgment was granted in favor of SAFCO on plaintiff’s claim under the NJPLA. Because no other required affidavits were filed, the court denied the motion for summary judgment on the NJPLA claim without prejudice as to Liberty, Staples, and CE.

The court denied without prejudice the motion regarding the claim for breach of express warranty as to all moving defendants. The court granted summary judgment in favor all moving defendants as to the negligence claim.

The case number is: 11-6385 (SRC).

Attorneys: Samuel J. Rosenthal (Barish Rosenthal) for William Geraczynski. Andrew B. Charkow (Landman, Corsi, Ballaine & Ford) for National Railroad Passenger Corp. Glenn Alan Montgomery (Montgomery, Chapin & Fetten, PC) for Safco Products Co., Liberty Diversified International, Staples, Inc., Corporate Express and Oasyschair Co., LTD.

Companies: National Railroad Passenger Corp.; Safco Products Co.; Liberty Diversified International; Staples, Inc.; Corporate Express and Oasyschair Co., LTD

MainStory: TopStory SCLIssuesNews IndustrialCommercialEquipNews DesignManufacturingNews NewJerseyNews

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