Installer not liable for garage door injury

Jessica M. Karmasek Jun. 2, 2011, 2:13pm


AUGUSTA, Maine (Legal Newsline) - The Maine Supreme Court, in a ruling last week, upheld the judgment of a jury determining the installer of an overhead garage door was not liable for a man's injuries.

Craig Burns, a mechanic at the Whited Ford light-duty truck shop in Bangor, Maine, was injured when a new steel garage door struck him on the head in November 2001.

In October 2007, Burns sued Wayne-Dalton Corp. and Architectural Doors and Windows, then known as Portland Glass, on a theory of product liability.

Following a jury's determination that the installer was not liable to the man, the Penobscot County Superior Court entered a judgment against Burns.

In his appeal to the state's high court, Burns challenges the lower court's limitations on his ability to argue certain causes of action during trial. Specifically, he argues he should not have been limited to a product liability claim for failure to warn.

"To be clear, we are not called upon to determine whether any of the alternate theories could have been tried had they been properly pleaded and been the subject of discovery," Chief Justice Leigh Ingalls Saufley wrote for the Court.

"Rather, we address several, but not all, of Burns's alternate theories to determine whether the trial court properly limited the evidence and argument that Burns could present to the jury based on the facts that he did plead."

The Court, in its May 24 opinion, said Burns offered no argument or evidence concerning any design defect in the door itself. Instead, the Court explained, he focused on the alleged defective condition of the door operators to which the door was connected and sought to cast his product liability claim as alleging a design defect "as installed."

"That late attempt to insert a component parts claim, which would be a new theory in Maine law, was similarly appropriately rebuffed by the court," Saufley wrote in the Court's 16-page ruling.

The Court said the superior court acted properly in clarifying through its summary judgment order the nature of the cause of action that would be tried to the jury.

"Neither before nor after the summary judgment was entered did Burns take steps to add a claim to his complaint or otherwise amend his complaint to clarify his cause of action," the Court wrote. "Nonetheless, he sought to offer proof at trial of several alternate claims, despite the court's consistent reminders about the nature of the cause of action being tried."

The Court found, in sum, that the superior court did not err in limiting the evidence and argument presented by Burns, and it did not err in its extensive trial rulings.

"And any error in the jury instructions regarding the duty to warn was harmless," it added.

The Court, calling Burns' remaining arguments "unpersuasive," affirmed the judgment.

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