In Ensley v. Strato-Lift, Inc., et al., Case No. CV-00-2069-HU, (D. Or. February 15, 2001) 2001 U.S. Dist. Lexis 3308, the plaintiff alleged defendants' platform lift caused plaintiff's son's death because it was defective. The uncontroverted evidence established that the lift had been modified after its sale. The defendants moved for summary judgment which the court denied. On defendant's motion, the court reconsidered its previous ruling, but ultimately affirmed denial of the defendants' summary judgment.
The issues raised on summary judgment concerned whether the plaintiff could resist summary judgment given the undisputed evidence the lift had been modified before the accident. Specifically, the court was required to determine the elements of a prima facie case which plaintiff had to establish sufficient to resist summary judgment, under the Oregon Supreme Court's holding in Seeborg v. General Motors Corp., 284 Or. 695, 588 P.2d 1100 (1978). The court found that Seeborg was capable of two possible interpretations. One, that a plaintiff seeking to resist summary judgment, in a post sale design modification case, must establish two elements: the product was dangerously defective when it left the seller's or manufacturer's hands and that it was more likely than not that the modification was not essential to the cause of the injury. This was the interpretation the court adopted in its first opinion.
On reconsideration, the court held in order to resist summary judgment, plaintiff had one prima facie burden: a showing that the product was dangerously defective when it left the seller's or manufacturer's hands. The court held that under Seeborg the modification at issue was not an independent, separate part of the prima facie case, but was a part of the singular prima facie burden, i.e., the plaintiff must show the dangerous defect existed at the time the product left the seller's or manufacturer's hands.
The court then went on to distinguish the facts in Ensley from those in Seeborg and denied defendants' motions for summary judgment. Specifically, in Seeborg the defendant had been entitled to summary judgment because the plaintiff had provided no affirmative proof of a defect at the time the allegedly defective vehicle left the manufacturer's hands. In contrast, the Ensley plaintiff proffered two experts affidavits concluding that the product was defective at the time of sale, as well as evidence that the modification itself did not contribute to the death of the plaintiff's son. As such, defendants were not entitled to summary judgment.
The court also denied defendants' Motion for Certification in light of its modified holding.
Related Practice Areas