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Case 3:11-cv-01112-WWE Document 67 Filed 07/11/13 Page 1 of 6

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT

Plaintiff,

v.

FREDDY PEREZ and JONATHAN
PEREZ,

:
:
:
:
:
:
TOYOTA MOTOR SALES U.S.A., INC.,:
:
CARMEL AUTO SALES, INC.,
:

Defendants.

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.

BACKGROUND

The parties have submitted statements of facts not in dispute along with

supporting materials, including exhibits and affidavits, which reveal the following factual

background.

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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Case 3:11-cv-01112-WWE Document 67 Filed 07/11/13 Page 2 of 6

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

odometer.

DISCUSSION

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).

CONCLUSION

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.

____________/s/_______________________
Warren W. Eginton
Senior United States District Judge

Dated this _11__ day of July, 2013 at Bridgeport, Connecticut.

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