By Leah S. Poniatowski, J.D.
Delivery of service that fell short of technical procedural requirements still was made in good faith and had no prejudicial impact on the clothes dryer manufacturer.
A products liability lawsuit arising from a fire allegedly caused by a clothes dryer should not have been dismissed by a federal district court for failing to comply with the service of process requirements in light of the injured party’s good faith attempt to serve the clothes dryer manufacturer and the manufacturer’s concession that it had not been prejudiced, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in an unpublished opinion, applying the adopted "flexible approach" to the good faith rule (Estate of Ginzburg v. Electrolux Home Products, Inc., September 4, 2019, Greenaway, Jr., J.).
In February 2015, a fire started in the kitchen of a condominium, damaging several units in addition to the condominium owner’s property. The owner alleged that a clothes dryer manufactured by Electrolux Home Products, Inc. (Electrolux) was defective and was the cause of the fire. He filed a writ of summons in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas on February 6, 2017—just within the two-year statute of limitations. He also was required to serve original process to Electrolux, an out-of-state party, within 90 days of the writ. Additionally, he filed a praecipe for a writ of summons, which tolled the statute of limitations. Although he sent the writ to Electrolux 88 days later, it was delivered one day after the 90-day period and had been sent to an outdated address for Electrolux. After the owner filed his products liability-based complaint against the manufacturer in July, Electrolux moved to dismiss on the grounds that service of process was insufficient and that the claim was time-barred.
Trial court. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania held that the lawsuit was time-barred for failing to comply with the requirements for proper service of process [see Products Liability Daily’s January 23, 2018 analysis]. The district court noted that the record clearly established that the owner had failed to serve a writ of summons on the manufacturer in a timely manner and in compliance with the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure for service by mail, and that he did not provide proof that the manufacturer had actual notice of the pending state action before expiration of the writ of summons. Furthermore, there was no tolling of the statute. Consequently, the court granted the manufacturer’s motion to dismiss the owner’s negligence, negligent failure to warn, and strict liability claims with prejudice. The owner filed the present appeal.
Pennsylvania rules. The appellate court disagreed with the lower court, observing that the state supreme court had adopted the "flexible approach" to the good-faith attempt rule, which considers whether the defendant had notice and was prejudiced by the procedurally defective service. In the case at bar, Electrolux had received the writ at its current address and conceded that it had not been prejudiced. Accordingly, the appellate court reasoned that the owner should not be punished for the technical shortcomings of his attempt at service because it had been made in good faith. Therefore, the lower court’s dismissal was reversed.
The case is No. 18-2686.
Attorneys: Lionel Artom-Ginzburg (Lionel Artom-Ginzburg, Attorney at Law) for Estate of Vittorio Ginzburg. Melissa L. Yemma (Nicolson Law Group) for Electrolux Home Products, Inc.
Companies: Electrolux Home Products, Inc.
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