One Court Allows Auto Fire Case to Proceed; Another Court Dismisses Fireplace Subro

Two short cases from New York to report on this month. 

First:  an appellate court here in Albany allowed an automobile fire case to proceed to trial even though the specific defect which caused the fire was unknown [1].   A used pick-up truck was destroyed by fire nine days after it was purchased.  The dealer that sold it had changed the oil prior to delivery.  No work had been done on the vehicle since it left the dealer.  Both sides agreed that the fire originated in the area of the oil filter, most likely due to leakage from the filter.  Neither side could, however, specify the precise defect that caused the leakage.  The Court found that plaintiff subrogating carrier had presented proof sufficient to sustain their lawsuit.  To sustain a subrogation action under a theory of breach of warranty, New York law only requires that the carrier show that the product was not fit for its ordinary purpose while being used in the customary manner.  This can be shown by use of “circumstantial” evidence – even if the precise defect which caused the fire is not known.

Second:  A different appellate court affirmed a jury’s dismissal of a subrogation action [2].   Defendant installed a woodburning stove insert at the Volaskis’ premises.  The instructions for the insert stated that the flooring in front of the fireplace must be protected with 16 inches of noncombustible floor protector.  Defendant did not put new flooring in, but testified at trial that he did orally advise the Volakis and did hand them the manufacturer’s instructions.  Noncombustible flooring was not put in.  Four years later, a fire occurred, allegedly due to an ember escaping from the stove and igniting the combustible flooring.  The court found that the contract was for installation of the insert only and at no time did the Volaskis contract for the installation of new noncombustible flooring.  Defendant did not breach its contract because he properly installed the stove insert.  Defendant was not obligated to install noncombustible flooring, because he was never asked by the Volaskis to do so.  The court sustained the jury’s verdict of no liability.

[1]  State Farm a/s/o Hinman v. Croyle Enterprises, 3rd Judicial District (December 20, 2007)
[2] Preferred Mutual a/s/o Volaski v. C. Rumbalski Chimney Sweep, 2nd Judicial District (December 26, 2007)

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