United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
LISA J. PRIESTER, individually, and as Personal Representative of the Estate of David A. Priester, Jr., Plaintiff,
FUTURAMIC TOOL & ENGINEERING COMPANY; CAPITAL WELDING, INC.; MCMASTER-CARR SUPPLY COMPANY; INTEC AUTOMATED CONTROLS, INC.; and SAR AUTOMATION, L.P., Defendants.
C. NORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the court on (1) defendants Futuramic
Tool & Engineering Company's
(“Futuramic”) motion for partial summary judgment
as to plaintiff Lisa Priester's (“Priester”)
strict liability claims, (2) defendant SAR Automation,
L.P.'s (“SAR”) motion for partial summary
judgment as to Priester's strict liability claims, and
(3) defendant Capital Welding Inc.'s (“Capital
Welding”) motion for summary judgment as to all of
Priester's claims. The court (1) grants in part and
denies in part Futuramic's motion for partial summary
judgment as to Priester's strict liability claims; (2)
grants in part and denies in part SAR's motion for
partial summary judgment as to Priester's strict
liability claims; (3) grants in part and denies in part
Capital Welding's motion for complete summary judgment as
to all of Priester's claims.
litigation arises out of a fatal accident at the Boeing
manufacturing facility in North Charleston, South Carolina.
ECF No. 75 at 1. On March 18, 2013, the decedent, David
Priester (“Mr. Priester”) was working on an elevated
work platform (“Cell 90”) when he fell through an
opening eighteen feet above the concrete floor. Id.
Cell 90 was designed with eighteen movable sliders which
extend at varying lengths to conform to the curving nature of
the body of the aircraft barrel. Id. at 4-5. The
design of Cell 90 called for the sliders to be no more than
three inches from the aircraft barrel. Id. At the
time of the incident, Mr. Priester and four other Boeing
employees were working on Cell 90, and following the last
shift break attempted to extend the sliders to continue
working on the aircraft. However, Slider #2 did not extend
the entire length to the body of the aircraft, leaving a gap
between the end of Slider #2 and the body of the aircraft.
ECF No. 88 at 3. Mr. Priester and his teammates continued to
work on the platform, and after working for approximately one
hour on Cell 90, Mr. Priester fell through the gap between
Slider #2 and the aircraft barrel. ECF No. 88 at 4. Mr.
Priester later died as a result of the injuries sustained
from the fall. ECF No. 75 at 1. Priester is the widow of Mr.
Priester and the personal representative of his estate.
filed the present suit on March 24, 2014 against Futuramic,
Capital Welding, McMaster-Carr Supply Company, and Intec
Automated Controls, Inc. She asserts strict liability claims
against Futuramic, Capital, and McMaster-Carr, and causes of
action for negligence, loss of consortium, and punitive
damages against all defendants. ECF No. 88 at 2. On September 17,
2014, Priester amended her complaint to add SAR as a
defendant. ECF No. 88 at 2.
Welding filed a motion for summary judgment on all of
Priester's claims on July 1, 2016, ECF No. 75, and
Priester responded on August 18, 2016, ECF No. 82, to which
Capital Welding replied on September 6, 2016, ECF No. 86.
Futuramic filed a motion for partial summary judgment on
Priester's strict liability claims on July 1, 2016, ECF
No. 76, and Priester responded on August 18, 2016, ECF No.
82, to which Futuramic replied on September 6, 2016, ECF No.
86. SAR filed a motion for partial summary judgment on
September 13, 2016, ECF No. 88, and Priester responded on
October 21, 2016, ECF No. 99, to which SAR replied on
November 4, 2016, ECF No. 102. The court held hearings on the
motions, which are now ripe for the court's review.
judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure requires that the district court enter
judgment against a party who, ‘after adequate time for
discovery . . . fails to make a showing sufficient to
establish the existence of an element essential to that
party's case, and on which that party will bear the
burden of proof at trial.'” Stone v. Liberty
Mut. Ins. Co., 105 F.3d 188, 190 (4th Cir. 1997)
(quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322
(1986)). Any reasonable inferences are to be drawn in favor
of the nonmoving party. See Webster v. U.S. Dep't of
Agric., 685 F.3d 411, 421 (4th Cir. 2012). However, to
defeat summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify an
error of law or a genuine issue of disputed material fact.
See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986); see also
Bouchat v. Balt. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d
514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003).
the court must draw all justifiable inferences in favor of
the nonmoving party, the nonmoving party must rely on more
than conclusory allegations, mere speculation, the building
of one inference upon another, or the mere existence of a
scintilla of evidence. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at
252; Stone, 105 F.3d at 191. Rather, “a party
opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment . .
. must ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is
a genuine issue for trial.'” Bouchat, 346
F.3d at 522 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) (2002) (amended
2010)). If the adverse party fails to provide evidence
establishing that the factfinder could reasonably decide in
his favor, then summary judgment shall be entered
“regardless of ‘[a]ny proof or evidentiary
requirements imposed by the substantive law.'”
Id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).
SAR's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment as to
Priester's Strict Liability Claims
brings a motion for partial summary judgment as to
Priester's strict liability claims, arguing that Priester
has not presented sufficient evidence to support a theory
based on strict liability for manufacturing defect, design
defect, or failure to warn. ECF No. 88 at 7. The court grants
SAR's motion for summary judgment as it relates to strict
liability for failure to warn and the design defect claim,
but denies the motion as it relates to the manufacturing
South Carolina, “[t]here are three defects a plaintiff
in a products liability lawsuit can allege: 1) a
manufacturing defect, 2) a warning defect, and 3) a design
defect.” Watson v. Ford Motor Co., 699 S.E.2d
169, 174 (S.C. 2010). “When a manufacturing defect
claim is made, a plaintiff alleges that a particular product
was defectively manufactured.” Id. “When
a warning defect claim is made, a plaintiff alleges that he
was not adequately warned of dangers inherent to a
product.” Id. Finally, “[w]hen a design
defect claim is made, a plaintiff alleges that the product at
issue was defectively designed, thus causing an entire line
of products to be unreasonably dangerous.” Id.
A plaintiff must establish three elements for a products
liability case based on the theory of strict liability: (1)
he was injured by the product; (2) the injury occurred
because the product was in a defective condition,
unreasonably dangerous to the user; and (3) the product, at
the time of the accident, was in essentially the same
condition as when it left the hands of the defendant.
Bragg v. Hi-Ranger, Inc., 462 S.E.2d 321 (S.C. Ct.
App. 1995). While under any products liability theory the
plaintiff must show that a product defect was a proximate
cause of his injuries, “proximate cause does not mean
the sole cause” and a “defendant's conduct
can be a proximate cause if it was at least one of the
direct, concurring causes of the injury.” Small v.
Pioneer Mach., Inc., 494 S.E.2d 835, 842 (S.C. Ct. App.
1998). As SAR moves for summary judgment on the manufacturing
defect, design defect, and failure to warn claims, the court
analyzes each of these in turn.
argues that there is no strict liability based on
manufacturing defect because it had no part in the initial
manufacturing of Cell 90, and that its addition of redundant
brakes to Cell 90 and disabling laser sensors was performed
“at the request of Boeing.” ECF No. 88 at 8. SAR
argues that it was a communication loss between the logic
software and the electrical system, and not a
mechanical issue associated with SAR's addition of
redundant brakes and disabling of laser sensors, which
prevented Slider #2 from extending fully, resulting in the
gap that Mr. Priester fell through. ECF No. 88 at 10. Citing
discrepancies between SAR's quote to Boeing and what it
actually provided, Priester argues that SAR “failed to
complete” its work on the manufacture of Cell 90. ECF
No. 99 at 14. The court is persuaded by the argument that
there are genuine issues of material fact as to whether
SAR's actions contributed to the defective condition of
Cell 90 on the night of Mr. Priester's fall.
court recognizes there is some ambiguity in the distinction
between what is required to establish a manufacturing defect
claim as opposed to a design defect claim. The court in
Fisher v. Pelstring, 817 F.Supp.2d 791, 818 (D.S.C.
2011), on reconsideration in part (Jan. 11, 2012),
acknowledged this, stating that there is “not an
abundance of case law in South Carolina about how a
manufacturing defect differs from other defects.”
However, the Fisher court noted that courts have
identified a manufacturing defect as existing “when a
product does not conform to the design standards and
blueprints of the manufacturer and the flaw makes the product
more dangerous and therefore unfit for its intended or
foreseeable uses.” Id. (citing Gerber v.
Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., 392 F.Supp.2d 907, 922 (S.D.
Tex. 2005)). The Fisher court also cited Wheeler
v. HO Sports, Inc., 232 F.3d 754, 757 (10th Cir. 2000),
where the Tenth Circuit applied Oklahoma law to determine
that “a product is defective in manufacture if it
deviates in some material way from its design or performance
standards . . . [which is] often established by showing that
a product, as produced, failed to conform with the
manufacturer's specifications.” Other courts within
this circuit have also framed manufacturing defects as a
defect that occurs when the final product does not conform to
specifications. See e.g., Shreve v. Sears,
Roebuck & Co., 166 F.Supp.2d 378, 411 (D. Md. 2001)
(Noting that “[c]ourts have not always been clear in
distinguishing the proof needed to establish a design defect
as opposed to a manufacturing defect . . . [but that] [t]o
avoid defendants' motion for summary judgment [on the
manufacturing defect claim], plaintiffs must offer evidence
of some indication that the product at issue  was not
manufactured in accordance with the product's design
SAR's Price Quotation for the work it performed on Cell
90 stated that it would include “design work up to the
interface terminal strip, ” the provision of
“[g]eneral Logic for slider operation” and an
“[a]larm horn with selectable tone, ” as well as
“commissioning,  testing and training.” ECF No. 99,
Ex. 11, SAR Quotation. According to Ebersole, SAR's
commissioning of Cell 90 “resulted in the system not
being completed to the design, and this was a cause” of
Slider #2 not extending fully. Id., Ex. 4, Ebersole
Dep. at 71:20-72:9. Ebersole further opines that SAR failed
to review the controller logic to ensure that it was
complete, and as a result, Cell 90's sliders were never
completed. ECF No. 82, Ex. 1, Ebersole Report at 33. While
Intec designed the communication verification logic, SAR also
played a role in the installation of the logic-it is during
the commissioning process that SAR was responsible for
verifying that all requirements were met, including that the
system that Intec designed to stop movement of all sliders
was properly installed and functional. ECF No. 82, Ebersole
Report at 26. By not completing the commissioning as
designed, Ebersole states, SAR's inactions contributed to
Cell 90 being put into use in a manner different from the
original design of the platform. Id.
court finds that Priester has presented enough evidence to
present a genuine issue of material fact that SAR's
actions in incompletely commissioning Cell 90 contributed to
Cell 90 being left in a state where it did not conform to its
intended design. A reasonable jury could find that the
failure of Cell 90 to sound an alarm when Slider #2 did not
fully extend on the day of Mr. Priester's fall was as a
result of SAR's incomplete commissioning of Cell 90's
logic. For Priester to survive summary judgment, the jury
need not find-as SAR urges-that SAR's incomplete
commissioning was the only act that led to Mr. Priester's
fall. In Small, the court held that a
“defendant's conduct can be a proximate cause if it
was at least one of the direct, concurring causes of
the injury.” Small., 494 S.E.2d at 842
(emphasis added). There is a genuine issue of material fact
as to whether SAR's role in the commissioning of Cell 90
failed to ensure that Cell 90 conformed to the ANSI A92.6
specifications and contained completed logic software.
Accordingly, the court denies summary judgment on the
manufacturing defect issue.
Design Defect 
SAR argues that there is no strict liability based on design
defect. A plaintiff proceeding under a design defect claim in
South Carolina must “‘point to a design flaw in
the product and show how his alternative design would have
prevented the product from being unreasonably
dangerous.'” Graves v. CAS Med. Sys.,
Inc., 735 S.E.2d 650, 658 (2012) (quoting
Branham, 701 S.E.2d at 16), reh'g
denied (Dec. 12, 2012). In presenting the alternative
design, the plaintiff must include consideration of the
“costs, safety and functionality of the alternative
design.” Branham, 701 S.E.2d at 16. The jury
then conducts a risk-utility test, “weighing the costs
and benefits attendant to [the manufacturer's]
decision” to use one design over another to determine
if the danger associated with the use of the product
outweighs the utility of the product. Id. In
Branham, the Supreme Court of South Carolina warned
that a jury question is not created “merely because a
product can be made safer.” Id.
role Cell 90 was to add a redundant air brake system in order
to prevent the sliders from moving, and upon testing and
commissioning of the platform SAR disabled laser sensors on
the sliders, including Slider #2. ECF No. 88 at 3. SAR argues
that it did not design the platform, and the work that it
completed on the redundant air brake system and laser sensors
was at the “specific request” of Boeing. ECF No.
88 at 10. Thus, SAR argues, it cannot be held liable for a
design defect. The court agrees-while SAR's incomplete