REPKA v. ARCTIC CAT INC

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Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department, New York.

Mark C. REPKA, Plaintiff-Respondent-Appellant, v. ARCTIC CAT, INC., Formerly Known as Arctco, Inc., Arctic Sales, Inc., and K.L. Sales and Service, Inc., Defendants-Appellants-Respondents.

Decided: July 01, 2005

PRESENT:  MARTOCHE, J.P., SMITH, LAWTON, AND HAYES, JJ. Rupp, Baase, Pfalzgraf, Cunningham & Coppola LLC, Buffalo (Matthew A. Lenhard of Counsel), for Defendants-Appellants-Respondents Arctic Cat, Inc., formerly known as Arctco, Inc., and Arctic Sales, Inc. Napier, Fitzgerald & Kirby, L.L.P., Buffalo (Kenneth R. Kirby of Counsel), for Defendant-Appellant-Respondent K.L. Sales and Service, Inc. Gresens & Gillen, LLP, Buffalo (Bernadette Clor of Counsel), for Plaintiff-Respondent-Appellant.

After being rendered a quadriplegic in a snowmobiling accident, plaintiff commenced this action asserting four causes of action:  negligence on the part of defendant Arctic Cat, Inc., formerly known as Arctco, Inc., the manufacturer of the snowmobile, and defendant Arctic Sales, Inc., the wholesaler (collectively, Arctic defendants);  negligence on the part of defendant K.L. Sales and Service, Inc. (K.L.), the retailer;  strict products liability on the part of all defendants;  and breach of warranty on the part of all defendants.   The first and third causes of action are based on theories of design defect, manufacturing defect, and failure to warn, and the second cause of action alleges failure to warn and negligent misrepresentation.

 We agree with plaintiff that Supreme Court erred in granting those parts of the respective motions of defendants for summary judgment dismissing the claims of failure to warn (components of the first, second and third causes of action) against them.   The purveyor of a product has a “duty to warn against latent dangers resulting from foreseeable uses of its product of which it knew or should have known,” even if those uses were unintended by the purveyor (Liriano v. Hobart Corp., 92 N.Y.2d 232, 237, 677 N.Y.S.2d 764, 700 N.E.2d 303).   The duty “extends to persons exposed to a foreseeable and reasonable risk of harm by the failure to warn” (Smith v. Minster Mach. Co., 233 A.D.2d 892, 894, 649 N.Y.S.2d 257).   The “adequacy of the warning in a products liability case based on a failure to warn is, in all but the most unusual circumstances, a question of fact to be determined at trial” (Cooley v. Carter-Wallace, Inc., 102 A.D.2d 642, 642, 478 N.Y.S.2d 375;  see Chien Hoang v. ICM Corp., 285 A.D.2d 971, 972, 727 N.Y.S.2d 840;  see also Ganter v. Makita U.S.A., 291 A.D.2d 847, 848, 737 N.Y.S.2d 184).   The nature of the necessitated warning and to whom it should be given “ depend upon a number of factors including the harm that may result from use of the product without the warning[ ], the reliability and adverse interest of the person to whom notice is given, the kind of product involved, and the burden of disseminating the warning” (Frederick v. Niagara Mach. & Tool Works, 107 A.D.2d 1063, 1064, 486 N.Y.S.2d 564, citing Cover v. Cohen, 61 N.Y.2d 261, 276, 473 N.Y.S.2d 378, 461 N.E.2d 864).   Even assuming, arguendo, that defendants established the sufficiency of the warnings as a matter of law, we conclude that plaintiff raised a triable issue of fact concerning their sufficiency through the averments of his expert (see Ganter, 291 A.D.2d at 848, 737 N.Y.S.2d 184;   Chien Hoang, 285 A.D.2d at 972, 727 N.Y.S.2d 840;  Steinbarth v. Otis El. Co., 269 A.D.2d 751, 703 N.Y.S.2d 417;  Smith, 233 A.D.2d at 894, 649 N.Y.S.2d 257).   We thus modify the order accordingly.

Similarly, we conclude that the court erred in granting that part of the motion of K.L. for summary judgment dismissing the claim of negligent misrepresentation (a component of the second cause of action) against it (see generally Osuchowski v. Gallinger Real Estate, 273 A.D.2d 892, 711 N.Y.S.2d 369;  International Fid. Ins. Co. v. Gaco W., 229 A.D.2d 471, 475, 645 N.Y.S.2d 522;  Rinaldo v. McCormick, 139 A.D.2d 874, 875, 527 N.Y.S.2d 601;  Dawes v. Ballard, 133 A.D.2d 662, 663, 520 N.Y.S.2d 11).   We therefore further modify the order.

 We further conclude that the court erred in granting those parts of the respective motions of defendants for summary judgment dismissing the claims of a manufacturing defect (components of the first and third causes of action) against them.   The conflicting deposition testimony concerning whether the “standard” carbide wear bars were in fact installed on the particular snowmobile sold to plaintiff creates a triable issue of fact precluding summary judgment for defendants (see Wesp v. Carl Zeiss, Inc., 11 A.D.3d 965, 967-968, 783 N.Y.S.2d 439;  Stajano v. United Tech. Corp. of N.Y., 273 A.D.2d 162, 711 N.Y.S.2d 718;  Napier v. Safeguard Chem. Corp., 224 A.D.2d 310, 638 N.Y.S.2d 40).   Specifically, the issue of fact is whether “the product's failure to perform in the intended manner [was] due to some flaw in the fabrication process ․ [, i.e., whether] the product was not built to specifications or ․ the product, as constructed, deviated from any such specifications or design” (McArdle v. Navistar Intl. Corp., 293 A.D.2d 931, 932, 742 N.Y.S.2d 146 [internal quotation marks omitted];  see Denny v. Ford Motor Co., 87 N.Y.2d 248, 257 n. 3, 639 N.Y.S.2d 250, 662 N.E.2d 730, rearg. denied 87 N.Y.2d 969, 642 N.Y.S.2d 198, 664 N.E.2d 1261).   We thus additionally modify the order accordingly.

 We further agree with plaintiff that his various claims of negligence (components of the first and second causes of action) are not barred by the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk as a matter of law, and we thus conclude that the court erred in granting those parts of the respective motions of defendants seeking summary judgment dismissing the claims of negligence against them on that ground.   Under the doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, participants in a sporting activity “properly may be held to have consented, by their participation, to those injury-causing events which are known, apparent, or reasonably foreseeable consequences of the participation” (Turcotte v. Fell, 68 N.Y.2d 432, 439, 510 N.Y.S.2d 49, 502 N.E.2d 964, citing Maddox v. City of New York, 66 N.Y.2d 270, 277-278, 496 N.Y.S.2d 726, 487 N.E.2d 553), and may be held to have assumed those risks that are “inherent” (Cole v. New York Racing Assn., 24 A.D.2d 993, 994, 266 N.Y.S.2d 267, affd. 17 N.Y.2d 761, 270 N.Y.S.2d 421, 217 N.E.2d 144) or “ ‘ordinary and necessary’ ” in the sport (Turcotte, 68 N.Y.2d at 443, 510 N.Y.S.2d 49, 502 N.E.2d 964, quoting Cole, 24 A.D.2d at 994, 266 N.Y.S.2d 267;  see generally Lamey v. Foley, 188 A.D.2d 157, 163-164, 594 N.Y.S.2d 490).   The fact that a particular product used by a participant in a sporting activity may prove to be defective is not an occurrence that is typically known, apparent, or reasonably foreseeable from the standpoint of the participant, nor is it ordinary, necessary or inherent in the activity itself.   To the contrary, a defective or unreasonably dangerous condition of the product is almost always a “concealed” condition, representing an “unreasonably increased” risk and hence one that would remain unassumed by the participant (Morgan v. State of New York, 90 N.Y.2d 471, 485, 662 N.Y.S.2d 421, 685 N.E.2d 202;  see generally Benitez v. New York City Bd. of Educ., 73 N.Y.2d 650, 658, 543 N.Y.S.2d 29, 541 N.E.2d 29;  Lamey, 188 A.D.2d at 163-164, 594 N.Y.S.2d 490).   Under the specific circumstances of this case, we conclude, as a matter of law, that the risk that plaintiff might be injured as a result of riding an allegedly defectively designed and manufactured snowmobile-one allegedly lacking sufficient traction and steering control and unaccompanied by adequate warnings of such alleged latent dangers when it left the hands of defendants-was not inherent in the sporting activity of snowmobiling, nor was it a risk known to plaintiff or understood by him, irrespective of the degree of his experience in riding snowmobiles (see Maher v. Recreational Mgt. Servs. Corp., 293 A.D.2d 720, 742 N.Y.S.2d 313;  Lamey, 188 A.D.2d at 164-165, 594 N.Y.S.2d 490;  cf. Rosati v. Hunt Racing, 13 A.D.3d 1129, 787 N.Y.S.2d 576).   Thus, the order must be further modified accordingly.

 Addressing defendants' appeals, we conclude that defendants are not entitled to summary judgment dismissing the complaint in its entirety on the ground that the snowmobile was reasonably safe as a matter of law.   In that regard, we note that plaintiff raised a triable issue of fact precluding summary judgment against him on his claims of defective design (see Beemer v. Deere & Co., 17 A.D.3d 1097, 1098, 794 N.Y.S.2d 253;  Wengenroth v. Formula Equip. Leasing, 11 A.D.3d 677, 679-680, 784 N.Y.S.2d 123;  Chien Hoang, 285 A.D.2d at 972-973, 727 N.Y.S.2d 840;  Smith, 233 A.D.2d at 893, 649 N.Y.S.2d 257).

 We further conclude that defendants are not entitled to summary judgment dismissing the complaint on the ground that the culpable conduct of plaintiff, including his alleged misuse of the snowmobile, was the sole proximate cause of the accident as a matter of law (see Schneider v. Verson Allsteel Press Co., 236 A.D.2d 806, 653 N.Y.S.2d 881).   As a matter of law, plaintiff was engaged in a foreseeable use of the product (see generally Lugo v. LJN Toys, 75 N.Y.2d 850, 852, 552 N.Y.S.2d 914, 552 N.E.2d 162), and not a “misuse of the product” (Crawford v. Windmere Corp., 262 A.D.2d 268, 269, 690 N.Y.S.2d 741, citing Sabbatino v. Rosin & Sons Hardware & Paint, 253 A.D.2d 417, 676 N.Y.S.2d 633, lv. denied 93 N.Y.2d 817, 697 N.Y.S.2d 565, 719 N.E.2d 926).   Moreover, it “cannot be said as a matter of law that plaintiff's loss of control of his [snowmobile] and resultant injury were extraordinary, unforeseeable or attenuated from” defendants' allegedly defective design or manufacture of the snowmobile or defendants' alleged failure to warn (Lamey, 188 A.D.2d at 169, 594 N.Y.S.2d 490).

It is hereby ORDERED that the order so appealed from be and the same hereby is unanimously modified on the law by denying the motions in their entirety and reinstating the complaint in its entirety and as modified the order is affirmed with costs to plaintiff.

MEMORANDUM: