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Neely v. National Cart Co., Inc.

United States District Court, D. Arizona

August 5, 2019

Thomas Neely, Plaintiff,
National Cart Co., Inc.; Win-Holt Equipment Corp.; and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Defendants.


          David G. Campbell Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Thomas Neely asserts products liability and negligence claims against National Cart Co. Inc. (“National”), Win-Holt Equipment Corp. (“Win-Holt”), and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (“Wal-Mart”). Doc. 1. National and Win-Holt move for summary judgment. Doc. 100. The motion is fully briefed (Docs. 105, 112), and oral argument will not aid in the Court's decision. See Fed R. Civ. P. 78(b).[1] For the following reasons, the Court will deny the motion.

         I. Background.

         Plaintiff alleges that he was injured in January 2016 at a Wal-Mart store in Prescott Valley, Arizona, while making deliveries for a beverage distribution company. Doc. 1 at 2-3. According to the complaint, Plaintiff's duties involved placing bottled drinks onto a large cart, called the ST-Rocket Cart, to restock shelves around the store. Id. at 3. Plaintiff was pulling the ST-Rocket Cart behind him one day, loaded with hundreds of pounds of bottled drinks, when the cart collided into the back of his right heel and its unguarded, sharp steel caused severe damage to his leg and Achilles tendon. Id. at 4-5.

         Plaintiff, National, and Win-Holt agree on the following facts. National and Win-Holt are producers and vendors of the ST-Rocket Cart for Wal-Mart, but Wal-Mart had final decision-making power related to the cart's design. Subtle differences exist between the ST-Rocket Carts supplied by National and Win-Holt, but they perform substantially the same. Wal-Mart's Prescott Valley store has around 51 ST-Rocket Carts produced by National and Win-Holt. Plaintiff cannot remember whether he was using a National- or Win-Holt-made ST-Rocket Cart during the incident, and he remembers nothing distinctive about the cart he used. There is no longer surveillance footage of the incident, nor any evidence of whether Plaintiff was using a National- or Win-Holt-made cart. Docs. 106-1-3; 101 at 1-3.

         National and Win-Holt assert that the ST-Rocket Cart was designed by Wal-Mart alone and that Wal-Mart owns the patents for the ST-Rocket Cart. Doc. 101 at 1. According to National and Win-Holt, Wal-Mart contacted its manufacturers and directed them to produce the ST-Rocket Cart according to its design specifications. Id. at 2.

         Plaintiff disputes that Wal-Mart was the sole designer, and asserts that Wal-Mart collaborated with National and Win-Holt in the cart's design except for certain parameters that Wal-Mart set. Doc. 106 at 2. He also disputes that the patents Wal-Mart owns describe the ultimate ST-Rocket Cart design. Id. Plaintiff asserts claims for strict liability product design and negligent product design against all three Defendants, and negligence against Wal-Mart alone. Doc. 1 at 2-8.

         II. Legal Standard.

         A party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, shows “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment is also appropriate against a party who “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit will preclude summary judgment, and the disputed evidence must be “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         III. Summary Judgment.

         A. Arizona Law.

         Strict liability for defective product design exists where a plaintiff can prove (1) the defendant is a manufacturer of the product, (2) the product was defective in design and unreasonably dangerous, (3) the defect existed when the product left the defendant's control, (4) the defect proximately caused the injury, and (5) damages. Cox v. Ford Motor Co., No. 1 CA-CV 09-0288, 2010 WL 3656041, at *2 (Ariz.Ct.App. Sept. 21, 2010); see also Sw. Pet Prods., Inc. v. Koch Industr., Inc., 273 F.Supp.2d 1041, 1051 (D. Ariz. 2003); Anderson v. Nissei A SB Mach. Co., Ltd., 3 P.3d 1088, 1092 (Ariz.Ct.App. 1999). Under a strict products liability theory, “the manufacturer can be held liable ‘despite its best efforts to make or design a safe product.'” Golonka v. Gen. Motors Corp., 65 P.3d 956, 962 (Ariz.Ct.App. 2003). But “liability will not be imposed on an entity that ‘bears[s] no causal connection to the production or distribution of the product.'” Atone v. Greater Ariz. Auto Auction, 155 P.3d 1074, 1076 (Ariz.Ct.App. 2007).

         To establish a negligence claim, including negligent design, a plaintiff must prove “(1) a duty requiring the defendant to conform to a certain standard of care; (2) a breach by the defendant of that standard; (3) a causal connection between the defendant's conduct and the resulting injury; and (4) actual damages.” Gipson v. Kasey, 150 P.3d 228, 230 (Ariz. 2007). “‘In order to succeed on a negligent design claim, a plaintiff must prove that the manufacturer acted unreasonably at the time of design . . . in light of the foreseeable risk of injury from use of the product.'” Hess v. Bumbo Int'l Tr., CV 13-944 TUC DCB, 2014 WL 12527216, at *7 (D. Ariz. Sept. 11, 2014) (citing Golonka, 65 P.3d at 962). “Negligence may consist of action or inaction” - it is “the failure to use reasonable care” or “act as a reasonably careful person would act under the circumstances.” Id. (quoting Golonka, 65 P.3d at 963).

         B. ...

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