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Smith Duggan Prevails in Product Liability Case in Rhode Island Federal District Court

In September of 2013, after a six-day trial, Smith Duggan obtained a defense verdict for NuTone, Inc., the manufacturer of a ceiling fan-light, in a products liability subrogation case brought by Public Service Mutual Insurance Company. The suit arose out of a fire that caused substantial property damage to a prominent restaurant in Coventry, R.I., owned by a Rhode Island state senator. PSMI paid on the loss and then brought a subrogation action against the NuTone, alleging that the fire was caused by a defect in a bathroom ceiling fan. PSMI claimed that the fan was the only appliance in the area of origin capable of igniting the fire.

Led by partner Chris Duggan, the Firm pursued an aggressive defense along three lines: (1) the product was carefully designed to meet or exceed industry standards, and was U. L. listed; moreover, all subcomponents that carried electrical characteristics were U.L. Recognized and were repeatedly tested by both in-house and independent engineers to ensure compliance with industry standards; (2) the were many other potential competent ignition sources in the general area of origin that PSMI and its experts could not and did not properly rule out; and (3) the failure of PSMI and its experts to preserve the fire scene and to conduct a proper fire scene inspection pursuant to accepted NFPA 921 guidelines made it impossible for a reasonable scientist to conclude exactly what had in fact caused the fire at the restaurant.

The jury returned a verdict after deliberating for less than on hour, despite the fact that the parties agreed that the ceiling fan was in the general area of origin of the fire. Public Service Mutual Insurance Co. v. NuTone, Inc., U.S. Dist. Ct. D. R.I. CA10-230S-DLM.