White v. Mazda Motor Of America, Inc.
Although it is true that an ordinary consumer may, under certain circumstances, be able to form expectations as to the safety of a product, the Appellate Court consistently has held, as in its 2006 decision in Keeney v. Mystic Valley Hunt Club, Inc., that "expert testimony is required when the question involved goes beyond the field of the ordinary knowledge and experience of judges or jurors." Roland White filed an amended complaint against Mazda Motor of America, Inc. and Cartwright Auto, LLC, seeking damages under the Connecticut Product Liability Act, C.G.S. §52-572m, alleging that his 2007 Mazda3 automobile was defective and unreasonably dangerous. The plaintiff alleged that approximately one month after he purchased the vehicle, flames erupted from the hood causing him injuries. The trial court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed contending that the court erred in concluding that he failed to present sufficient evidence to oppose the defendants' motion and sufficient evidence that the vehicle was defective when sold was submitted by both expert opinion and by way of the malfunction doctrine. (The doctrine is similar to res ipsa loquiter.) The majority of the Appellate Court panel affirmed the judgment concluding that the plaintiff did not raise the malfunction theory in the trial court prior to its rendering summary judgment and declined to consider its application on appeal. Considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the majority ruled that the trial court did not err in granting the defendants' motion. The plaintiff's expert identified the most likely causes of the engine compartment fire and stated based on his examination of another Mazda3, that he was "amazed that the clip to the fuel line was flimsy and, by a simple touch, sprung off the fuel line." Although he concluded as to the likely cause of the fire, the plaintiff failed to present any expert to opine on the defectiveness of the design or manufacture of the vehicle or the Mazda3 model. Judge White dissented disagreeing that the plaintiff did not raise the malfunction theory below, although not by name, and concluded that the plaintiff may establish a prima facie case through circumstantial evidence under the malfunction theory and did not need expert testimony on the car's defective condition.