Summary judgment is appropriate when the plaintiff cannot establish that the existence of a defect was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries; the mere existence of a defect does not prove that the defect was responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries. In re Bridgestone/Firestone Incorporated, Tires Product Liability Litigation No. 04-1611, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, June 6, 2005-08-11.
Jett purchased a new Ford Explorer in October 1997, which came equipped with Firestone Wilderness AT tires. In March 1998, while operating the vehicle, Jett heard a “tapping” noise from her right rear tire. An accident ensued, and Jett suffered physical injuries. After the accident, Jett went to a salvage yard, where she observed that the tread of the right rear tire had separated from the base of the tire. The vehicle was then sold to another salvage yard, and Jett was unable to recover her vehicle. In 2000, Jett was informed about some Firestone tires that had experienced tread separation problems and about the eventual Firestone recall. Although Jett had not preserved the tire, she commenced a product liability action against Firestone. Firestone moved for summary judgment, arguing that Jett had not produced sufficient evidence that the defect in the tire was the cause of her accident. The district court granted the summary judgment motion, and the appellate court affirmed. It held summary judgment was appropriate because Jett could not establish that the mere existence of the tire tread defect was the cause of her accident. The court held that where direct evidence is lacking, it is the plaintiff’s burden to negate other possible causes by a preponderance of the evidence. It held that it is necessary for the plaintiff to eliminate other causes that might have arisen so that the trier of fact is not left to speculation and conjecture. Although in this case, the defect in the Firestone tire might have led to a higher chance of failure, Jett could not establish that this defect was the proximate cause of her particular accident.
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