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Theresa Villani Obtains Summary Judgment and Wins Appeal

Theresa Villani successfully argued the appeal in Salinas v. World Housewares, et al. before the Appellate Division First Department which unanimously affirmed the Supreme Court New York County decision granting summary judgment and dismissing the plaintiff’s complaint in its entirety.

In this action for products liability, plaintiff, a Texas resident, sought damages for personal injuries which included severe burns to over 40% of her body allegedly caused while using a potholder designed and distributed by our client. Plaintiff claimed that while using the potholder to remove a pan from an electric oven, the potholder burst into flames. All parties submitted expert opinion evidence from cause and origin, flammable fabric and textile experts. Ms. Villani argued that the plaintiff’s complaint should be dismissed because plaintiff and her experts gave inconsistent and contradictory pre-trial testimony as to what precipitated the fire and because there were no statutory violations, prior similar complaints or similar incidents. Plaintiff testified that the pot holder burst into flames while one inch from the heating element of the electric oven. Plaintiff’s experts testified that the cause and origin of the fire was the pot holder and that plaintiff must have mistakenly touched the heating element. Plaintiff argued that her expert’s thorough investigation concluded that the fire’s origin was the pot holder and that plaintiff’s poor vision caused her to accidentally touch the heating element or she did not recall doing so. In addition, plaintiff’s textile expert opined that the pot holder was defectively designed, not 100% cotton as labeled and consisted of fibers more flammable than cotton.

The Supreme Court agreed with Ms. Villani and dismissed plaintiff’s case finding as a matter of law the evidence defendant presented established that the pot holder did not cause plaintiff’s injury and, in particular, that plaintiff’s expert testimony was inconsistent with plaintiff’s sworn testimony; and that that the plaintiff’s experts failed to establish a jury issue by impeaching plaintiff’s testimony and opining that she must have touched heating element. The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed, finding that plaintiff failed to establish a material issue of fact as to the accident’s proximate cause and that her expert improperly assumed that the potholder caught fire after contacting the heating element, a fact which plaintiff specifically denied several times during her two-day deposition.

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