Westerbeke, the Second District Court of Appeal held that the trial court departed
from essential requirements of law when it applied the incorrect law on
appellant’s motion to compel the disassembly of a piece of a gas
generator involved in a boat explosion.
Three separate lawsuits were filed following a boat explosion, which were
consolidated for purposes of discovery. Respondents sued appellant, the
manufacturer of the gas generator. Respondent’s theory of liability
was that the explosion was caused by an internal short that led to a sparking
event inside the “stator” of the generator, which was caused
by manufacturing and design defects.
The manufacturer sought to disassemble the stator to look for evidence
of a spark or ignition source that caused the explosion. Its theory was
that a spark did not occur in the stator and the short that was detected
in it occurred after the explosion. Respondents objected, contending this
would not reveal any probative evidence and would destroy evidence.
The trial court was concerned with “collateral estoppel” and
whether the disassembly would potentially harm the cases that were not
set for trial yet. Thereafter, it entered a brief order denying the manufacturer’s
motion to compel.
The Second District Court of Appeal explained that the three cases had
been consolidated for discovery purposes, the disassembly was requested
in all three cases, and the unwinding would have occurred before the first
trial. In outlining Florida’s discovery standard, the appellate
court noted that a party is entitled to discover evidence that is relevant
and admissible or reasonably calculated to lead to admissible evidence.
Thereafter, the Second District Court of Appeal concluded that the trial
court departed from the essential requirements of the law in failing to
apply the right discovery standard and in applying instead the doctrine
of collateral estoppel to the motion to compel.
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