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Stenzel v. Best Buy Co. Inc.

Court of Appeals of Michigan

December 22, 2016

PAULETTE STENZEL, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
BEST BUY COMPANY, INC. and SAMSUNG ELECTRONICS AMERICA, INC., Defendants-Appellees.

         Ingham Circuit Court LC No. 14-000527-NO

          Before: M. J. Kelly, P.J., and O'Connell and Beckering, JJ.

          M. J. Kelly, P.J.

         Plaintiff Paulette Stenzel appeals as of right the trial court's orders granting summary disposition in favor of defendants Best Buy Company Incorporated (Best Buy) and Samsung Electronics America Incorporated (Samsung). For the reasons stated in this opinion, we affirm the trial court's order granting summary disposition in favor of Samsung but reverse the trial court's order granting summary disposition in favor of Best Buy.

         I. BASIC FACTS

         This case arises from Stenzel's purchase of a Samsung refrigerator/freezer (the refrigerator) from Best Buy. According to Stenzel, Best Buy delivered the appliance to her home and installed it. As part of the installation, Best Buy connected the refrigerator's ice maker and water dispenser to the existing water line in the home. About two days later, Stenzel returned home to find that the refrigerator had begun spraying water through the dispenser on its front door and onto her kitchen floor. Stenzel unsuccessfully attempted to stop the water by adjusting a water or ice dispenser lever, pressing buttons on the control panel, and, at the direction of a Best Buy employee, trying to disconnect the flow of water to the refrigerator using a valve at the back of the appliance. When none of those steps worked, the Best Buy employee directed her to shut off the water line for her home, which she did after climbing a ladder in her basement into a crawl space under her kitchen. Stenzel testified that when she was in the crawl space, she discovered that water had leaked through the floor into the crawl space. Further, she testified that the coating of water in the kitchen extended partially around an island counter that was three and a half to four feet away from the refrigerator.

         Stenzel testified that she was frantic to clean up the standing water because she was concerned about water damage. She explained that she took every towel available and covered almost the entire surface where water had been standing. Stenzel testified that at first she attempted to wring the wet towels out in the sink, but there was too much water. She then put some of the towels in a lattice laundry basket. Because it was heavy with water and wet towels, she dragged the basket through her living room, down two steps in her sunroom, and across the sunroom in order to get the towels outside. After hanging the towels, she returned for a second load. According to Stenzel, this time when she was walking through her sunroom, attempting to drag the basket outside, her "foot went out from under [her]" and she fell and broke her leg and ankle. She testified that she fell because her feet were wet or because the floor in the sunroom was wet from dragging the basket of wet towels through the room.

         In April 2014, Stenzel brought suit against Best Buy, alleging negligence, breach of contract, and breach of warranty. In May 2015, she amended her complaint to add claims against Samsung. Best Buy moved for summary disposition, which the trial court granted in April 2015 after finding that Stenzel had failed to establish causation. Samsung also moved for summary disposition, which the trial court granted in July 2015 after finding that Stenzel had again failed to establish causation and that her claims against Samsung were barred by the statute of limitations.

         II. SUMMARY DISPOSITION

         A. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Stenzel argues that the trial court erred in granting summary disposition in favor of Best Buy and Samsung. This Court reviews de novo a trial court's ruling on a motion for summary disposition. Marilyn Froling Revocable Living Trust v Bloomfield Hills Country Club, 283 Mich.App. 264, 279; 769 N.W.2d 234 (2009). Under MCR 2.116(C)(10), a party may be entitled to summary disposition if there is no genuine issue with respect to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Id. at 278. All documentary evidence submitted by the parties is considered in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id.

         B. CAUSATION

         In order to establish causation, a plaintiff must establish both cause in fact and legal cause, i.e. proximate cause. Skinner v Square D Co, 445 Mich. 153, 162-163; 516 N.W.2d 475 (1994). "The cause in fact element generally requires showing that "but for" the defendant's actions, the plaintiff's injury would not have occurred." Id. at 163. Legal cause "normally involves examining the foreseeability of consequences, and whether a defendant should be held legally responsible for such consequences." Id. Here, the trial court found that Stenzel had failed to establish either cause in fact or proximate cause.

         In Skinner, our ...


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