Cozen O'Connor recently handled the first trial to go to a jury on the issue of strict liability against a manufacturer of CSST (corrugated stainless steel tubing). We are pleased to announce that, following an eight day trial conducted by Mark Utke of our Philadelphia office, the jury found CSST to be a defective product and imposed strict liability against Omegaflex, one of the major manufacturers of CSST.   Mark represented Terence and Judith Tincher, as well as their property insurance carrier, for both subrogated and uninsured losses. The jury awarded 100% recovery of both the subrogated and uninsured losses, for a total judgment that will exceed $1,000,000.  Tincher v. Omegaflex involved a CSST line that was installed in 1998 and failed from the effects of indirect lightning in June of 2007, and was tried in the Common Pleas Court of Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Recipients of our Subrogation Alerts and readers of the blog know of the issues arising from the development of CSST.  Since 1988, CSST has been used in industrial, commercial and residential construction to transport pressurized propane and natural gas.  The tubing walls are flexible and only approximately 10 mils thick (the equivalent of four sheets of paper), making CSST extremely vulnerable to the energy from indirect lightning strikes.  While seeking to go to ground, the energy can result in a perforation in the tubing. When this occurs, an arc ignites the pressurized gas and causes a blow torch effect, which typically results in a significant fire. CSST failures are annually responsible for millions of dollars in property damage across the United States, and hundreds of claims are pending against the various manufacturers of CSST.

Omegaflex sells a brand of CSST known as TracPipe, which first came on the market in 1996, as a replacement for traditional black iron pipe.  To date, over 750 million feet of this product has been sold across the country.  The purported advantages of TracPipe are its flexibility, ease of installation, and ability to reduce the incidents of gas leaks.  At trial, Omegaflex argued TracPipe’s ability to survive natural disasters, such as earthquakes and tornadoes, far outweighed any disadvantage associated with  the product, including its vulnerability in confronting indirect lightning strikes.  Omegaflex also argued that a properly bonded CSST system could withstand the energy produced from an indirect lightning strike.  Omegaflex's failure to ever  test TracPipe’s ability to withstand such energy, when properly bonded, proved fatal to its defense. 

The National Electric and Fuel Gas Codes both contain bonding requirements for household gas and electric systems.  However, these codes are intended to address life safety issues arising from stray electric current, as opposed to the dissipation of the energy created by an indirect lightning strike.  Despite this, CSST manufacturers, as an industry, argue that compliance with these code requirements demonstrates their products to be safe.  However, the National Fire Protection Association is currently evaluating the effectiveness of bonding as it relates to CSST and has considered recommending a complete ban on the sale of CSST, absent a demonstration by the industry that bonding can be a safe and effective means of safely dissipating the electrical energy created by an indirect lightning strike.

The Tincher verdict, significant on its own, has the potential to impact cases against Omegaflex beyond Chester County, Pennsylvania. A viable argument exists to extend the principles of collateral estoppel to apply to other cases against the manufacturer in other jurisdictions, involving similar facts and claims of defect. The defective nature of the product would no longer be an issue for the jury to decide, given the prior determination by the Tincher jury. 

For additional information, please feel free to contact either Mark Utke or any of  the 130 subrogation attorneys at Cozen O’Connor.

North Carolina Extends Statute of Repose for Defective Products to 12 Years

BooksEffective October 1, 2009, North Carolina's statute of repose for claims for defective products will be increased from six to twelve years for actions that accrue on or after October 1, 2009.  N .C .G .S. 1-46.1(a)(1) .  For actions that accrued prior to October 1, 2009, the former statue of six years after the date of initial purchase or consumption will apply. 

This will substantially and positively impact subrogation potential for defective product claims in North Carolina. Interestingly, the statute of repose for improvements to real property will remain six years from the later of the specific last act/omission giving rise to the cause of action or the date of substantial completion .   N.C.G.S.  1-50(a)(5)

It is key that in any claim you have that you are calculating both the statute of limitation and statute of repose periods.  Remember a statute of limitation begins to run from the date of the event or loss.  This is the length of time within which a legal cause of action or suit must be brought.  Whereas, as statute of repose may have begun to run months or even years before the event/loss.  A classic example would be a defective car which catches fire within the garage of a home.  In North Carolina, the statute of limitation for property damages based in tort is generally three years from the event.  However, the statute of repose for the product, in this case the car, will be calculated from the date of sale to the first purchaser.

Suit must be brought before the running of both the limitation and repose periods.

 It is entirely possible that the repose period may have run before the loss or will run shortly after the date of loss.  This was frequently the problem with product claims in North Carolina because of the short repose period of six years.  Now, for events that take place after October 1, 2009, a twelve year repose period will apply and more product claims can be brought as now products between 7-12 years in age will not automatically be excluded which would bar suit against the manufacturer.   In the example above, a claim that occurred prior to October 1, 2009, for a defective 11-year old vehicle is barred because the six year statute of repose still applies to claims before October 1, 2009.  If the fire had occurred today, October 1, 2009, the claim would not be barred because of the longer repose period of twelve years applies.  Note, you would still have to bring suit within one year of the loss (before the end of the 12th year), well before the running of the three year statute of limitation.  While the increase to 12 years for the product repose period is good news for those in the recovery business.

State Flag of North CarolinaKeep in mind that North Carolina still has a fairly short six year statute of repose for improvements to real property.  So, if your house fire was due to defective original wiring in the garage and not the defective vehicle, you would have only a six year repose period that applies to your claim.  Like the example with the car, you might need to bring suit before the running of the limitation period if the six year repose period for the structure will run before the three year limitation period to bring suit expires."

Product Recalls: Bolstering Your Subrogation Case

Junk appliancesOne of the first things to do upon receipt of a new subrogation loss involving a product is to check to see if there are any recalls of that product.  Ultimately, if your cause and origin investigator determines the product is the cause of the loss, the recall can greatly strengthen your subrogation case.  It provides effective cross-examination of the manufacturer’s employees and experts, as well as substantial leverage in settlement discussions. 

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) regularly advises the public of product recalls and is an excellent resource.  Recently, the CPSC issued the following product recalls which may be relevant to future subrogation claims:

On July 30, 2008, Frigidaire announced a voluntary recall of clothes washers due to a fire hazard.  An internal defect in the washers’ drain pump case overheats and presents a fire hazard.  This recall involves several models within the six brands manufactured by Frigidaire which were sold nationwide between February 2009 and May 2009.  The Frigidaire brands subject to this recall include Crosley, Frigidaire, Kelvinator, Kenmore, Wascomat and White-Westinghouse

On July 21, 2009, Fiesta Gas Grills announced a voluntary recall of its Blue Ember grills, which are fueled by propane.  These gas grills are manufactured by Unisplendor Corporation and Keesung Corporation, both in China. Fiesta is the national importer.  The hose of the gas tank can get too close to the firebox, exposing it to heat and creating a fire hazard. The grills were sold nationwide between November 2006 and June 2007 and in Canada between November 2006 and May 2009. 

On August 11, 2009, Griffin International issued a voluntary recall on Wii battery recharge stations.  Psyclone Essentials and React Wii 4-dock battery recharge stations are recalled due to a fire hazard. The battery pack can overheat, creating a fire hazard. The battery packs subject to this recall were sold at Target, Toys R Us and on amazon.com from January 2008 to July 2009.