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Williams v. Techtronic Industries North America, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 23, 2014

CRAIG WILLIAMS d/b/a GEORGETOWN CRANBERRY COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
TECHTRONIC INDUSTRIES NORTH AMERICA, INC. and HOME DEPOT U.S.A., INC., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

DENISE J. CASPER, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Craig Williams d/b/a Georgetown Cranberry Company ("Williams") has filed this lawsuit against Techtronic Industries North America, Inc. ("TTI") and Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. ("Home Depot") (collectively "Defendants"). Defendants have moved for summary judgment. D. 36. For the reasons stated below, the Court ALLOWS Defendants' motion.

II. Factual Background

Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are as described in the parties' statements of facts, D. 38, 45, to the extent those facts are not disputed, see D. 45, 47 (responses to statements of facts).

Williams purchased a Ryobi cordless drill at a Home Depot Store. D. 38 ¶ 4; D. 45 at 1, ¶ 5 (although "denying" ¶ 4, William asserts that the drill involved in the fire was a "Ryobi cordless drill and charger set, model P200").[1] Although Williams testified at his deposition that he did not know the model number of the drill, id. ¶ 6, he now asserts that the drill was a Ryobi P200. D. 45 ¶ 5. Williams has proffered no evidence as to the drill's manufacture date. D. 38 ¶ 5.[2] Williams used the drill approximately twelve times prior to July 10, 2009, experiencing no difficulties with the drill. Id . ¶ 7.

On July 10, 2009, Williams began using the drill and the battery died. D. 38 ¶ 8. He removed the battery from the drill and placed it in the charger, which was plugged in at that time. Id . ¶ 9. He then placed a second battery in the drill and used the drill, experiencing no problems with it. Id . ¶¶ 10-11. After using the drill, Williams placed it back on a workbench inside his barn. Id . ¶ 12. Approximately thirty to forty-five minutes later, Williams learned that his barn was on fire. Id . ¶ 13. The fire destroyed the barn that housed Williams's cranberry farming equipment. Id . ¶ 1. At the time of the fire, the barn contained other electrical items including electric heaters, fluorescent lights, overhead lights, electrical outlets, a well pump, an air compressor, a band saw that was plugged into the wall, a bench grinder, a drill press, a welder and a fuse box. Id . ¶ 14. Williams also stored about eight tons of fertilizer, gasoline and diesel in his barn. Id . ¶ 15.

Sergeant (then a Trooper) Michael J. Peters ("Sgt. Peters"), an inspector of the Massachusetts State Police Fire and Explosion Section, conducted an investigation of the fire. D. 45 ¶ 12. He concluded that that there were only two possible items that could have energized the fire: the charger for the Ryobi drill and the air compressor. Id . ¶ 13.

Sgt. Peters analyzed the damage to the barn, evaluating the location of the most serious fire damage. Id . ¶ 15. For the purposes of his report, he labeled the sides of the building A, B, C and D. Id . ¶ 17. Sgt. Peters concluded that Side B suffered little heat damage and that the most severe damage was on Side D. Id . ¶¶ 19-21. He further concluded that the burn patterns suggested that the fire originated on Side C of the workshop, close to the CD corner, where the workbench containing the charger was located. Id . ¶¶ 23, 32. The compressor, meanwhile, was located in the BC corner of the workshop. Id . ¶ 25. Sgt. Peters concluded that the compressor did not fail and that the remains of the wood framing in the area of the compressor indicated that the fire did not originate in the area around the compressor. Id . ¶¶ 26-27. Based on the foregoing, he concluded that the fire originated in the area of the workbench that contained the drill. Id . ¶ 12. He also examined the battery and concluded that one of its cells exhibited signs of failure. Id . ¶ 30. However, he also concluded that:

It is my opinion that this fire is accidental. However, further forensic examination of the battery, charger and associated wiring must occur to determine if they have failed, causing the fire. At this time, my cause is undetermined, however, I reserve the right to re-open the case if additional information is developed in the future.

D. 47 ¶ 12.

After the fire, Williams's insurance company retained EFI Global ("EFI") to investigate the origin of the fire. D. 38 ¶ 16. EFI obtained evidence including the drill remains. Id . ¶ 17. EFI determined that there was no evidence to support a claim that the drill caused the fire, but that there were instead numerous potential causes. Id . ¶¶ 18-19. After completing their investigation, EFI destroyed all of the evidence it had collected, including the remains of the drill. Id . ¶ 20.

III. Procedural History

Williams commenced this action on August 9, 2012, asserting claims of negligence and breach of warranty. D. 1-1. On January 8, 2014, Defendants moved for summary judgment. D. 36. The Court heard oral argument on the motion for summary ...


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