Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire, Judge Finds

     CHICAGO (CN) – K-Mart and Sears, Roebuck and Co. can proceed with a lawsuit over defective fire sprinkler heads that doused some of their stores across the country, a federal judge ruled.

     Between May 2008 and October 2008, seven sprinkler heads activated prematurely at seven of the retailers’ stores in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Texas, California, Virginia and New Hampshire.
     Tyco Fire Products, or its predecessor Grinnell Corp., manufactured the sprinkler heads, and SimplexGrinnell installed and serviced the products. K-Mart and Sears filed suit, and their experts testified that fault for the deficiencies in the sprinkler heads lay with the manufacturing process. The ultimate culprit in the product was an activation mechanism in the sprinklers that Tyco stopped making in 1982.
     Tyco and SimplexGrinnell argued that the statutes of repose in Virginia, Texas and New Hampshire barred negligence claims in those states. With the exception of the Texas claims against Tyco, U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman declined to grant summary judgment on that issue.
     SimplexGrinnell, however, could not use the defense since it failed to prove that it qualified as a seller.
     Guzman did let SimplexGrinnell dismiss the negligence and strict liability since the company did not design, manufacture or test the sprinkler heads. Though the company may have been involved in distribution, it can get summary judgment on that issue as well because Sears and K-Mart did not provide any evidence on that point.
     As to negligence and product liability, Tyco failed to win summary judgment for the claims based in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, New Hampshire and California. Guzman did let the company dismiss the product liability claims from Virginia.
     Most of the breach-of-contract claims against SimplexGrinnell survived summary judgment as well, but Guzman said the retailers cannot sue over the National Sprinkler Identification Service Agreement executed in 2003.

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