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Peter Czyszczon v. Universal Lighting Technologies

July 17, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Milton I. Shadur Senior United States District Judge


Peter Czyszczon ("Czyszczon") has sued Universal Lighting Technologies, Inc. ("Universal") and 2601-2607 W. 22nd St., LLC d/b/a Oak Brook Office Pavilion ("Pavilion"), charging in Complaint Count I that his fall from a ladder was caused by an electrical shock from a defective ballast designed and manufactured by Universal and in Count II that Pavilion, the owner of the property where Czyszczon was injured, failed to maintain its premises in a reasonably safe condition. Universal has filed a motion for summary judgment on Count I under Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule") 56.*fn1 For the reasons stated here, the motion is granted.

Summary Judgment Standard

Every Rule 56 movant bears the burden of establishing the absence of any genuine issue of material fact (Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322--23 (1986)).*fn2 For that purpose courts consider the entire evidentiary record and must view all of the evidence and draw all inferences from that evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant (Egan Marine Corp. v. Great Am. Ins. Co. of N.Y., 665 F.3d 800, 811 (7th Cir. 2011)). But a non-movant must produce more than "a mere scintilla of evidence" to support the position that a genuine issue of material fact exists and "must come forward with specific facts demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial" (Carmichael v. Vill. of Palatine, 605 F.3d 451, 460 (7th Cir. 2010), quoting Wheeler v. Lawson, 539 F.3d 629, 634 (7th Cir. 2008)). As Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 772-73 (7th Cir. 2003) has explained:

[T]he Federal Rules of Civil procedure require the nonmoving party to "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). Conclusory allegations, unsupported by specific facts, will not suffice.*fn3 Ultimately summary judgment is warranted only if a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-movant (Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). What follows is a summary of the relevant facts, viewed of course in the light most favorable to non-movant Czyszczon.

Factual Background*fn4

Czyszczon contends that on September 24, 2008, while installing into a light fixture a new ballast designed and manufactured by Universal, he received an electrical shock that caused him to fall from his ladder and sustain injury (AC ¶¶2, 5). He testified that he did not know if the ballast had anything to do with the incident and that he received the shock when he touched another component of the light fixture that is not designed or manufactured by Universal (U. St. ¶¶3-4).

Czyszczon retained opinion witness Robert Quinn ("Quinn"), who testified in part in his deposition that he "can't even say it is more likely than not" that a defect in the ballast caused Czyszczon's injuries and that "we don't know what shocked him" (U. St. ¶7; Quinn Dep. 75). Quinn further admitted that there were many possibilities as to what shocked Czyszczon, including the ballast, the fixture itself, the wiring, the mogul and uncovered wire taps, and that he could not say which of those was the most likely source (id.). When Quinn was asked whether he had "an opinion as to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty as to what part of the fixture as a whole or component of the fixture that Mr. Czyszczon touched to become shocked," he replied that there is no way to know for sure (U. St. ¶9). But he later testified that although the cause of the shock was undetermined, in all events it did occur in the ballast (Quinn Dep. 103).

Whether the circuit was tripped after the accident is contested.

Although there was damage to the transformer in the ballast that is consistent with a manufacturing defect, Quinn opined that the "damage and the shock may not be related" (Quinn Dep. 79, 81). At one point in his deposition Quinn testified that there was "[p]erhaps a 51 percent chance" that electricity flowed from an arc event inside the primary in the ballast into the core and ultimately into Czyszczon, but he later stated that route "is not likely, no" (id. 66, 74).

Grounding of light fixtures prevents electrical shocks by providing a path for any stray current into the earth rather than into a nearby person (Quinn Dep. 12). Ballasts are normally grounded to the fixture by bolting them into the fixture's case with metal screws that are connected to the grounded conduit system of the building (id. 15). Electrical shocks can occur only where the path through the person receiving the shock provides less resistance than the path into the earth (id. 22-23).

Quinn testified that the fixture Czyszczon was working on was grounded, but he did not measure the resistance of the grounding (Quinn Dep. 13, 23). Universal's designated opinion witness David Powell ("Powell") measured the resistance between the fixture and the building ground and concluded that the fixture was "very well grounded" because the resistance was very low, ranging from 0.18 to 0.28 ohms (U. St. Ex. 9 at 12). It appears that no one attempted to measure the resistance of the path through Czyszczon.

When asked how a grounded fixture could have shocked Czyszczon, Quinn testified that a shock could still occur if the core of the light fixture became energized and Czyszczon touched it while some other part of his body was in contact with a grounded metal surface (Quinn Dep. 68). Powell's report also identified two scenarios in which a shock could occur -- one in which the fixture was not properly grounded and a second that "involves only two necessary steps or components": ...

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