Talk about putting out fires. In the 11th District Court in Houston, John Engvall Jr. successfully defended a candle maker and a candle seller against a deceptive trade practice suit filed by a pet store. The store filed its suit after an odor-removing candle, made and sold by Engvall’s clients, went up in flames and damaged the retailer’s property. The pet store’s 24-hour security cameras captured the conflagration.

On April 13, 11th District Judge Michael D. Miller issued a final take-nothing judgment favorable to the candle makers and the seller in Pet City v. Bramton Company, et al. A jury had found on Feb. 10, 2012, that the alleged negligence of the candle seller — the only defendant who appeared as a potential liable party on the jury charge — was not responsible for damages claimed by the plaintiff.

For Engvall, a partner in Houston’s Engvall & Lopez and the lead lawyer representing the defense, winning the case meant overcoming the unusual situation of having the jury shown a video that captured the candle bursting into flames.

“It wasn’t a great set of facts,” says Engvall, but he notes that the plaintiff employees “did leave the candle burning for 13 hours and went home for the night.”

Engvall rose to the tricky task of overcoming that security-camera video, as well as the plaintiff side sharing with the jury that the manufacturer had recalled a similar type of candle, by executing a well-balanced cross-examination of the plaintiff’s expert witness, according to Jacob Paschal, an associate at the same firm who served as second chair for defense at trial.

“He didn’t go over the top but he discredited him,” Paschal says about Engvall’s questioning of the plaintiff expert. As a result, the jury questioned whether that plaintiff expert had properly tested his theory that the candle burst into flames because of a design defect, Paschal says.

In a fifth amended petition filed on Jan. 20, 2012, Pet City Inc. alleged that it was using an odor removing candle in the manner it was intended in 2006 when it burst into six- to eight-inch flames and ignited a display shelf. The petition alleged that the candle maker, Laredo Candle Co., and its affiliate Home Interiors and Gifts, as well as Bramton Co., vicariously were liable for negligence, gross negligence, negligent misrepresentation, strict product liability and a violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Engvall represented all the defendants. [See the petition.]

In an answer filed Aug. 19, 2011, filed by Bramton Co. on behalf of all defendants, Engvall says, the defense denied the allegations and alleged that the plaintiff’s own and possibly third parties’ negligence caused the damage. [See the answer.]

After a four-day trial, the court asked the jury, as part of an agreed-upon charge, to consider if the negligence of only Laredo Candle Co. or Pet City caused the alleged damages. The jury verdict issued on Feb. 10, 2012 — after the panel deliberated for a day — concluded that the negligence of Pet City caused the damages. Marc Sheiness, a partner in Houston’s Sheiness, Scott, Grossman & Cohn, who represents Pet City, did not return a call by press time. [See the judgment.]

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