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Pukt v. Nexgrill Industries, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

September 6, 2016

Joseph and Barbara Pukt
v.
Nexgrill Industries, Inc. Opinion No. 2016 DNH 157

          ORDER

          Joseph A. DiClerico, Jr. United States District Judge.

         Joseph and Barbara Pukt brought suit against Nexgrill Industries, Inc., alleging claims that arose from damage to their property after a grill manufactured by Nexgrill caught fire. Nexgrill moves, in limine, to preclude the Pukts from offering evidence of other fires involving grills that it manufactured. The Pukts object.

         Background

         In 2005, Joseph Pukt received a grill from his family as a Father's Day gift. The grill was manufactured by Nexgrill and was one of its Model 720-0036-HD-05 grills. The 720-0036-HD-05 model grill was one of eight models that Nexgrill produced and marketed in its 720 series. On September 8, 2005, all Model 720-0036-HD-05 grills were recalled because they contained a defect that, in some instances, caused the fuel hose to come into contact with the grill's firebox and melt, creating a propane leak that could ignite.

         On July 1, 2012, the Pukts' grill caught fire shortly after a family member finished cooking on it. The fire spread to the Pukts' deck and house, causing extensive damage. The Pukts assert that the fire was caused by the same fuel hose defect that resulted in the recall of all Model 720-0036-HD-05 grills. The Pukts bring claims against Nexgrill for negligence and strict liability.

         The Pukts intend to introduce evidence at trial concerning other fires involving grills manufactured by Nexgrill. Nexgrill has moved, in limine, to preclude the Pukts from introducing this evidence, arguing that the evidence is inadmissible because the other fires are not substantially similar to the accident at issue here. Nexgrill also contends that the evidence of other accidents is inadmissible because it is unfairly prejudicial and risks confusing the jury.

         Standard of Review

         To be admitted at trial, evidence must be relevant. Fed. R. Evid. 402. Evidence is relevant when “it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence” and the “fact is of consequence in determining the action.” Fed. R. Evid. 401. A court may exclude relevant evidence, however, “if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence.” Fed. R. Evid. 403.

         In products liability cases, courts employ a more particularized inquiry into probative value when assessing whether evidence of prior accidents is admissible. Trull v. Volkswagen of Am., Inc., 187 F.3d 88, 98 n.9 (1st Cir. 1999). Under this standard, “[e]vidence of prior accidents is admissible . . . only if the proponent of the evidence shows that the accidents occurred under circumstances substantially similar to those at issue in the case at bar.” Moulton v. Rival Co., 116 F.3d 22, 26-27 (1st Cir. 1997) (quoting McKinnon v. Skil Corp., 638 F.2d 270, 277 (1st Cir. 1981)). Substantial similarity is “a function of the theory of the case” and, therefore, does not require that the circumstances surrounding the other accidents be identical. Moulton, 116 F.3d at 27.

         When a party offers evidence of other accidents to show notice or awareness of a dangerous condition, however, the similarity requirement is relaxed. U.S. Aviation Underwriters, Inc. v. Pilatus Bus. Aircraft, Ltd., 582 F.3d 1131, 1147-48 (10th Cir. 2009); Surles ex rel. Johnson v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 474 F.3d 288, 297-98 (6th Cir. 2007); Joy v. Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc., 999 F.2d 549, 555 (D.C. Cir. 1993); Jenks v. Textron, Inc., No. 09-CV-205-JD, 2012 WL 2679495, at *6 (D.N.H. July 6, 2012). In such circumstances, “a lack of exact similarity . . . will not cause exclusion provided the accident was of a kind which should have served to warn the defendant.” Bado-Santana v. Ford Motor Co., 482 F.Supp. 2d 197, 200 (D.P.R. 2007) (quoting Exum v. General Elec. Co., 819 F.2d 1158, 1162-63 (D.C. Cir. 1987)).

         Discussion

         Nexgrill moves to preclude the admission of the following three categories of evidence of other accidents involving its grills: (1) evidence of other fires involving Model 720-0036-HD-05 grills (doc. no. 78); (2) evidence of customer returns of Model 720-0036-HD-05 grills because of fires (doc. no. 81); and (3) evidence of fires involving other models of Nexgrill grills (doc. no. 82). The Pukts contend that each category is relevant and admissible.

         A. Other Fires Involving Model 720-0036-HD-05 Grills

         Nexgrill moves generally to exclude evidence of other fires involving Model 720-0036-HD-05 grills. The Pukts' claims in this case are based on the theory that the grill's fuel hose contacted the fire box and melted, thereby allowing gas to escape and ignite. Based on findings by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (the “CPSC”) and subsequent investigations, the Pukts ...


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