The First Department determined the motion to compel plaintiff to supplement his interrogatories in this products liability case was properly denied. Plaintiff alleged the escalator he was working on started up without warning severely injured his leg. The fact that plaintiff can not identify the cause of the unexpected start-up did not require supplementing his interrogatories as he can so state “under oath:”
“It is well settled that a products liability cause of action may be proven by circumstantial evidence, and thus, a plaintiff need not identify a specific product defect” … . In the absence of evidence identifying a specific defect “a plaintiff must prove that the product did not perform as intended and exclude all other causes for the product’s failure that are not attributable to [the] defendants” … . If a “plaintiff is unable to prove both elements, ‘a jury may not infer that the harm was caused by a defective product unless [the] plaintiff offers competent evidence identifying a specific flaw'” …
In his interrogatory responses, plaintiff identified several alleged design defects, including the design of the pit, that contributed to his injury. However, he did not identify a cause for the unexpected start up of the escalator. … Presently, plaintiff asserts that he cannot pinpoint the defective component that allowed the escalator’s machinery to begin moving without warning. In an instance where plaintiff “presently lacks the knowledge” to specifically identify the nature of the defect, plaintiff can testify to that “under oath” … . … [I]f he acquires the pertinent information he would be under an obligation to promptly supplement his answers to the interrogatories at issue … . Berkovich v Judlau Contr., Inc., 2022 NY Slip Op 01733, First Dept 3-15-22
Practice Point: Products liability actions can be proven by circumstantial evidence. If a plaintiff does not know the cause of a product malfunction (here, an escalator which allegedly started running unexpectedly) at the discovery stage, the plaintiff can testify to that fact under oath.