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Westerbeke Corporation v. Michael Atherton, et. al., 42 Fla. L. Weekly D1741c, (2d DCA, Aug. 9, 2017)

In 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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