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Brodsky v. Kavo Dental Technologies, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 14, 2017

ELLEN BRODSKY, et al., Plaintiffs,


          Paula Xinis, United States District Judge.

         Pending in this matter are the motion for partial summary judgment as to liability filed by Plaintiffs Ellen Brodsky (“Brodsky”) and Yakov Brodsky (“Mr. Brodsky”) against Defendant Henry Schein, Inc. (“Henry Schein”) (ECF No. 42), and the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant KaVo Dental Technology, LLC (“KaVo”) (ECF No. 45). The motions have been fully briefed and oral argument was heard on Thursday, December 14, 2017. After considering the parties' arguments, the Court GRANTS the Plaintiffs' motion and DENIES KaVo's motion.

         I. Background

         The following facts are undisputed. Plaintiff Ellen Brodsky is a dentist in Bethesda, Maryland. ECF No. 42-3 at ¶¶ 6-8. In 2010, Brodsky contracted with the company Henry Schein to purchase and install equipment in her dental practice, including the Helios light manufactured by KaVo. See ECF No. 42-3 at ¶ 8. Proper installation of the Helios light required drilling a hole through the mounting pole that affixes the lamp to the ceiling and installing a roll pin into the drilled hole. ECF No. 42-9 at 22-23. Henry Schein failed to install the required roll pins in the Helios lights. ECF No. 42-8 at 4. In 2012, while she was examining a patient, the lamp of a Helios light separated from its mounting pole, striking Brodsky in the face and head and causing her significant injury. See ECF No. 42-3 at ¶¶ 10, 11.

         On October 13, 2015, the Plaintiffs filed suit against the Defendants in Montgomery County Circuit Court for negligent manufacturing and design defect against KaVo (Counts I and II), negligent installation and breach of contract against Henry Schein (Counts III and IV), and loss of consortium against each defendant (Counts V and VI). ECF No. 2. On November 24, 2015, Defendants removed the action to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction. ECF No. 1. The Plaintiffs moved for summary judgment as to Henry Schein's liability on the negligence count. ECF No. 42. KaVo moved for summary judgment in its favor in light of Henry Schein's negligence. ECF No. 45.


         When presented with a motion for summary judgment, the Court must determine “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). “Summary judgment is appropriate only if the record shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Woollard v. Gallagher, 712 F.3d 865, 873 (4th Cir. 2013). Summary judgment properly is granted when, construing the evidence in the record and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, it nevertheless is “perfectly clear” that no genuine dispute of fact exists. Haulbrook v. Michelin N. Am., 252 F.3d 696, 702 (4th Cir. 2001).


         a. The Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment as to Henry Schein

         The Plaintiffs seek partial summary judgment in their favor as to the negligence claim against Henry Schein. Sitting in diversity, this Court applies the substantive law of the forum state, in this case, Maryland. See Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938); Francis v. Allstate Ins. Co., 709 F.3d 362, 369 (4th Cir. 2013) (“A federal court sitting in diversity is required to apply the substantive law of the forum state, including its choice-of-law rules.”). To prevail in negligence, a plaintiff must prove “(1) that the defendant was under a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury, (2) that the defendant breached that duty, (3) that plaintiff suffered actual injury or loss, and (4) that the loss or injury proximately resulted from the defendant's breach of duty.” Washington Metro. Area Trans. Auth., 387 Md 217, 223 (2005). For the fourth element, proximate causation, a plaintiff must demonstrate that a defendant's acts or omissions are both a cause-in-fact of the plaintiff's injuries and a legal cause of those injuries. See Chang-Williams v. United States, 965 F.Supp.2d 673, 692 (D. Md. 2013).

         Importantly, “an injury may have more than one ‘proximate cause.' Thus, the causation element requires plaintiff to establish not that defendant's negligence was the sole cause of plaintiff's damages, but that there is a reasonable connection between defendant's negligence and plaintiff's damages.” Young v. United States, 667 F.Supp.2d 554, 561 (D. Md. 2009). When an injury is the result of more than one independent act, “causation-in-fact is satisfied if it is more likely than not that the defendant's conduct was a substantial factor in producing the plaintiff's injuries.” Chang-Williams, 965 F.Supp.2d at 693 (internal quotation marks omitted). Each cause-in-fact is a proximate cause if it meets the foreseeability standard that the harm that befell the plaintiff is within “a general field of danger that the [defendant] should have anticipated or expected.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “Although causation is generally a factual question for the jury, it becomes a question of law in cases where reasoning minds cannot differ.” Doe v. Board of Educ. Of Prince George's Cty., 982 F.Supp.2d 641, 662 (D. Md. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Here, the undisputed evidence demonstrates that Henry Schein, as the installer of the Helios lights, owed the Plaintiffs a duty of due care, that is, to install the lights in a reasonably safe manner. Further, it is undisputed that Henry Schein failed to install the roll pin as per the manufacturer's instructions, and that this failure (at least in part) caused the light to separate from the arm and fall on Brodsky's face and head. The Plaintiffs' expert, mechanical engineer Michael Leshner, opined that Henry Schein's failure to install the roll pin proximately caused Brodksy's injuries. Henry Schein offered no evidence, expert or otherwise, to counter Leshner's opinion. Thus, even when construing the evidence in the light most favorable to Henry Schein, summary judgment in the Plaintiffs' favor as to the negligence count is warranted.

         Henry Schein does not and cannot meaningfully contest its own liability in this case. Rather, Henry Schein contends that summary judgment is inappropriate because KaVo's alleged design defect, namely inferior threads in the male and female ends of the arm supporting the light, independently caused the light to fall without respect to Henry Schein's negligence. See ECF No. 49 at 1-3. This argument is unavailing. Leshner consistently testified that Henry Schein's failure to install a roll pin combined with the defective threads together proximately caused Brodksy's injuries. See Leshner Dep. 30:15-31:3; 35:2-36:5; 99:12-21; 133:21-134:1; 137:10-21; 170:1-7; 222:2-7; see also ECF No. 49-3 (Leshner Report) at 12; ECF No. 49-2 (Leshner Supplemental Report) at 3; ECF No. 49-4 (Leshner Second Supplemental) at 7-8. Leshner opined specifically that:

[M]y opinion is that both the male and female threads involved were not manufactured according to their specifications and were not compliant with industry standards for that size of thread in at least three different ways, and that by - and that during the installation, a roll pin that was supposed to be installed was never installed, the setscrews that were intended to be tightened I don't ...

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