On July 7, 2015, a Federal Court jury in Columbus, Ohio, returned a defense verdict in favor of BMW AG and BMW North America LLC in a commercial litigation case brought by Great Northern Insurance Company and Pacific Insurance. BMW was represented by Lawrence A. Sutter and John R. Conley of Sutter O’Connell Co., assisted by Joseph J. Darwal and paralegal Ashley Ross.
In 2010, Plaintiffs’ insured, Jean Patrick, was driving home from work when she noticed a burning smell coming from her 2007 BMW 328xi. Upon returning home, she parked her vehicle in the garage and noticed a wisp of smoke emanating from her vehicle. Within minutes a fire consumed the vehicle and proceeded to burn through the attached garage and a portion of the Patricks’ house. A dispute between the Patricks and their insurers lasted over a year resulting in the house becoming unrepairable and declared a total loss. Eventually Great Northern paid Mr. and Mrs. Patrick approximately $1.4 million.
In December 2011, Great Northern, Pacific and the Patricks brought this products liability and breach of warranty action against the BMW entities. Plaintiffs alleged the BMW 328 xi was defectively designed in that it allowed for the accumulation of leaves in the engine compartment, which ignited due to the heat of the engine they claimed started the fire.
Evidence presented at trial exposed the deficiencies in Plaintiffs’ claims of design defect and breach of warranty. BMW showed through cross examination and its own expert witness testimony that Plaintiffs’ defective design theory was physically impossible, that the vehicle was not defectively designed and the accumulation of leaves and organic material in the engine compartment was impossible. Plaintiffs’ own liability expert was forced to admit that his alternative design was not, in fact, a feasible alternative and that he had done no testing to show that BMW’s vehicle design was defective.
The defense team put together a CSI like defense, using a biologist and a forensic entomologist to back date a carcass found in the vehicle post fire. Using the remains of moths, beetles and flies, the defense established a timeline that placed rodents, specifically a fox squirrel, nesting in the vehicle prior to the event. This testimony provided the jury with a reasonable explanation as to the cause of the fire.
Trial, which included a jury view of the accident scene, lasted nine days.
Great Northern Insurance Company, as Subrogee of Allen L. Patrick and Jean A. Patrick, Pacific Indemnity Insurance Company, as Subrogee of Allen L. Patrick and Jean A. Patrick v. Brentlinger Enterprises D/B/A Midwestern Auto Group and Midwestern BMW and BMW of North America, LLC, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, United States District Court, Southern District Of Ohio, Case No. 2:11-cv-01153