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Ronald and Diane Ozbun v. Rite-Hite Corporation

August 29, 2012

RONALD AND DIANE OZBUN,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
RITE-HITE CORPORATION, A WISCONSIN CORPORATION, AND RITE-HITE PRODUCTS CORPORATION, A WISCONSIN CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard F. Cebull Chief U.S. District Judge

ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Presently before the Court is the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiffs' strict liability claims.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In 2000, Defendant Rite-Hite installed a Dok-Lok Model LDL-500 at the warehouse docking facility at Western Sugar Cooperative facility in Billings, Montana. The purpose of the Dok-Lok was to safely secure a semi-trailer's rear impact guard ("RIG") to the loading dock using the Dok-Lok vehicle restraining device.

In January 2008, Plaintiff Ron Ozbun was employed at the Western Sugar Cooperative facility in Billings, Montana. At that time, Plaintiff was working at the warehouse loading dock when a Wal-Mart semi-trailer entered the loading dock. As the semi-truck was backing toward the loading dock, Plaintiff attempted to engage the Dok-Lok system to the semi-trailer.

The Dok-Lok did not engage with Wal-Mart's RIG because the RIG was at a lower height than the Dok-Lok. Plaintiff attempted to adjust the Dok-Lok height by pushing it down with a broom handle. During this process, the broom handled slipped and Plaintiff lost his balance and fell between the semi-trailer and the loading dock while the semi-truck was backing up. Consequently, Plaintiff sustained serious long-term physical injury.

Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges claims of strict products liability, negligence, and loss of consortium.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable fact finder could find for the nonmoving party and a dispute is "material" only if it could affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Anderson, v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

The party moving for summary judgment has the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. Once the moving party has done so, the burden shifts to the opposing party to set forth specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial. In re Barboza, 545 F.3d 702, 707 (9th Cir. 2008). The nonmoving party "may not rely on denials in the pleadings but must produce specific evidence, through affidavits or admissible discovery material, to show that the dispute exists." Id.

On summary judgment, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. The court should not weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

ANALYSIS

The Montana Supreme Court has adopted the theory of strict products liability set forth in Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A. That Restatement states that "[o]ne who sells any product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer...is subject to liability for physical harm thereby caused to the ultimate user or consumer..." Patch v. Hillerich & Bradsby Co., 257 P.3d 383, 387 (Mont. 2011).

To establish a prima facie case in strict product liability, a plaintiff must prove that: "(1) The product was in a defective condition, 'unreasonably' dangerous to the user or consumer; (2) The defect caused the accident and injuries complained of; and (3) The defect is traceable to the defendant." Wood v. Old Trapper Taxi, 952 P.2d 1375, 1379 (Mont. 1997) (quoting Brown v. North Am. Mfg. ...


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