Case 3:11-cv-01112-WWE Document 67 Filed 07/11/13 Page 1 of 6
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
FREDDY PEREZ and JONATHAN
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES U.S.A., INC.,:
CARMEL AUTO SALES, INC.,
3: 11cv1112 (WWE)
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON DEFENDANTS’
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
The genesis of this action is a single car accident that occurred when plaintiff
Freddy Perez was driving his Toyota Tacoma with his son, plaintiff Jonathan Perez.
Plaintiffs allege that defendants Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. and Carmel Auto
Sales, Inc. are liable to them under the Connecticut Product Liability Act (“CPLA”) § 52-
572m through 52-572q. The defendants Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. and Carmel Auto
Sales have filed motions for summary judgment.
For the following reasons, the motions for summary judgment will be granted.
The parties have submitted statements of facts not in dispute along with
supporting materials, including exhibits and affidavits, which reveal the following factual
Plaintiff is a resident of Danbury, Connecticut, who purchased a 2002 Toyota
Tacoma in April 2006.
Defendant Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. is a corporation with its principal place of
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business in California that is in the business of selling, marketing and distributing motor
vehicles, including the Toyota Tacoma. Defendant Carmel Auto Sales, Inc., is a
corporation in Brewster, New York, that sells and repairs new and used motor vehicles.
On April 12, 2010, plaintiff Freddy Perez was driving in the northbound lane on
Federal Road in Danbury, Connecticut. He was operating a 2002 Toyota Tacoma with
his son, Jonathan, in the right front passenger seat. Freddy Perez reports that he
heard the engine getting louder and the engine speed increase as he approached the
intersection of Federal Road and Hardscrabble Road. He states that he applied the
brakes in order to slow down and made a right turn onto Hardscrabble Road. He
represents that, as he applied the brakes to stop on Hardscrabble Road, the engine
“just took off.” He asserts that the vehicle would not slow down despite his use of the
emergency brake and the fact that he kept his foot firmly on the brake pedal. Plaintiff
turned left onto Old State Road, which is uphill and has two speed bumps leading to a
parking lot. Plaintiff drove into the parking lot and eventually struck the curb and
traversed onto a grassy area. The car came to a stop after it rolled on to the driver’s
side of the vehicle. Jonathan Perez recalled that he saw his father attempt to engage
the emergency brake but that the car did not respond by slowing down.
At the time of the accident, the car had approximately 82,000 miles on the
A motion for summary judgment will be granted where there is no genuine issue
as to any material fact and it is clear that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The burden is on the
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moving party to demonstrate the absence of any material factual issue genuinely in
dispute. American International Group, Inc. v. London American International Corp.,
664 F. 2d 348, 351 (2d Cir. 1981). In determining whether a genuine factual issue
exists, the court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against
the moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). "Only
when reasonable minds could not differ as to the import of the evidence is summary
judgment proper." Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F. 2d 979, 982 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 502
U.S. 849 (1991).
The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate the absence of any material
factual issue genuinely in dispute. American International Group, Inc., 664 F.2d at 351.
In determining whether a genuine factual issue exists, the court must resolve all
ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. Anderson,
477 U.S. at 255.
If a nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential
element of his case with respect to which he has the burden of proof, then summary
judgment is appropriate. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. If the nonmoving party
submits evidence which is "merely colorable," legally sufficient opposition to the motion
for summary judgment is not met. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.
Defendants argue that plaintiffs cannot prove that the vehicle was defective
without expert evidence.
To bring an action pursuant to the CPLA, a plaintiff must prove (1) the defendant
was engaged in the business of selling the product; (2) the product was in a defective
condition unreasonably dangerous to the consumer or user; (3) the defect caused the
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injury for which compensation was sought; (4) the defect existed at the time of the sale;
and (5) the product was expected to and did reach the consumer without substantial
change in condition. Potter v. Chicago Pneumatic Tool Co., 241 Conn. 199, 214
(1997). Thus, plaintiffs must prove that the product was defective, that the defect was
the proximate cause of their injuries, and that the defect existed at the time that the car
was first distributed.
However, under the malfunction theory, a plaintiff need not establish by direct
evidence a specific product defect so long as evidence of some unspecified dangerous
cause or condition that is related to the product’s design or manufacture is present.
Potter, 241 Conn. 225. The purpose of the malfunction doctrine is to allow proof by
circumstantial evidence where no direct evidence of how or why a product failed exists.
Fallon v. Matworks, 50 Conn. Supp. 207, 217 (2007). A plaintiff may use circumstantial
evidence of a non-specific defect where all other identifiable causes of the alleged
malfunction have been eliminated. Metropolitan Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Deere, 302
Conn. 123,131 (2011).
Plaintiffs have not identified a specific defect that caused the accident and have
not proffered expert evidence to support the assertion of such defect. Expert testimony
is of particular import to cases involving automobiles due to the complex technical
issues integral to such cases. White v. Mazda Motor of America, Inc., 139 Conn. App.
39, 49 (2012). When lay witnesses and common experience are not sufficient to
remove a case from the realm of speculation, the plaintiff needs to present expert
testimony to establish a prima facie case. Metropolitan Prop. & Casualty Ins. Co., 302
Conn. at 141.
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Plaintiffs maintain that their circumstantial evidence concerning the accident is
sufficient to survive summary judgment. Plaintiffs have submitted their witness accounts
that plaintiff Freddy Perez did not press the accelerator and attempted to slow the
vehicle by using the emergency brake and the brake pedal. Plaintiffs have not
explained why they have not retained an expert to examine the car, which was available
for defense expert evaluation.
However, even assuming that plaintiffs may avail themselves of the malfunction
doctrine, plaintiffs’ claim cannot survive summary judgment without some evidence to
support an inference that the defect is attributable to the manufacturer or the seller of
the product. Plaintiff must present sufficient evidence to allow the fact finder to
determine that the accident did not result from causes other than a product defect
existing at the time of sale or distribution. See Hirschbeck v. Wright Medical
Technology, Inc., 2011 WL 1086942, * 7-9 (Conn. Super. 2011).
In this instance, the accident occurred at least eight years after the car was
manufactured in 2002, and approximately four years after it was purchased from
Brewster. Plaintiffs bear the burden to establish an “evidential bridge between the
condition of the product at the time of sale until the defect manifests itself.” Hunter v.
Mazda of Milford, 1999 WL 179642, *4 (Conn. Super.). To allow a speculative
inference solely from the fact of an accident, after manufacturers and sellers have lost
exclusive control of the product, would convert the manufacturers and sellers into
insurers of their products. Metropolitan Property and Cas. Ins. Co., 302 Conn. at 138.
Plaintiffs have not sustained their burden to raise an inference that the asserted defect
existed at the time of the manufacture and sale of the car. Summary judgment will
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enter because the law does not permit juries to rely on speculation. Paranto v.
Piotrkowski, 2010 WL 4226765, *4 (Conn. Super. 2010).
For the foregoing reasons, the motions for summary judgment [docs. # 49 and
53] are GRANTED. The motion for hearing [doc. # 52] is MOOT. The clerk is
instructed to close this case.
Warren W. Eginton
Senior United States District Judge
Dated this _11__ day of July, 2013 at Bridgeport, Connecticut.