Rakauskas v. Arden Shell Corp., et al.

In this case, the plaintiff’s husband, who was pumping gas at a defendant self-service station, contended that the fire suppression system that was installed and maintained by one of the defendants activated despite the absence of fire, suddenly discharging chemical from the canopy above the pump, causing the plaintiff to run and fall, sustaining injuries. The plaintiff’s expert maintained that the incident would not have occurred unless the system was faulty and/or the defendants negligently failed to maintain it properly. The plaintiffs relied on a theory of res ipsa loquitur. The defendants contended that all proper maintenance procedures were followed, and the defendants maintained that the plaintiffs’ claims that the incident could not occur unless at least one of the defendants was negligent should be rejected. The defendants pointed out that the system is required to have a “rate compensation” system in which a spike in temperature would trigger the system. The defendants contended that any number of factors including a plume of heat from multiple vehicles at the island during a hot day, or a malfunctioning heat sensor, could not be ruled out as causes for the fire suppression discharge. The defendants also contended that the fire suppression installer would have no means of ascertaining that a heat sensor would prematurely activate and release the chemical in between the semi-annual inspections that were conducted.

The manufacturer and designer were not parties.

The Court found insufficient evidence to charge the jury with res ipsa loquitur. The jury found for the defendants.

Case Notes

Supreme Court of the State of New York – County of Richmond
Index No.: 104055/2007
Judge: Alan Marin
Defense Verdict – June 21, 2013
Responsible Partner: Lisa R. Kramer
Client: Fire Guard of Long Island, Inc. (Scottsdale Insurance Company)
Opposing Counsel: Gerard DeCapna, Esq. (plaintiff); Law Offices of James Pieret & Associates (co-defendant Arden Shell Corp.)