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Subway: Eat Fresh, Stay Alert – Subway wins design defect claim on summary judgment (PA)

September 1, 2016

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On July 14, 2016, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas granted the defendant’s, Bhagvati Krupa, Inc. t/a Subway (“Subway”), motion for summary judgment against the plaintiff’s claims based on a defective design argument in <em><a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Subway-Case.pdf">Santangini v. Bhagvatic Krupa, Inc t/a Subway</a></em>.  Specifically, on September 20, 2013, the plaintiff, Geraldine Santangini, was a customer in a Subway store located in Center City Philadelphia.  After purchasing her food, the plaintiff went to the self-serve soda fountain to fill her drink.  Thereafter, the plaintiff turned towards the door to leave the store, took a step and fell down two steps that led to the exit.  The plaintiff alleged certain injuries as a result of the fall.
The plaintiff filed suit against Subway for her injuries, alleging that the Subway restaurant was defectively designed.  Notably, the plaintiff alleged, <em>inter</em> <em>alia</em>, that the Subway restaurant was defectively designed because there was an unguarded ledge directly next to the self-service soda machine and the design caused an overcrowded condition in certain areas.  After discovery was completed, Subway filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of negligence because the plaintiff did not obtain an expert to establish that the Subway was in fact defectively designed.
In deciding the motion for summary judgment, the trial looked at whether the issue of negligence could be determined by a layperson or whether it required a special skill or knowledge.  If the former was true, no expert would be needed; however, the latter would require an expert.  Here, looking at the issue of whether the Subway store was defectively designed, the trial court found that expert testimony was “indispensable” for the plaintiff’s claims against Subway.  Specifically, the trial court stated that there were too many variables to take into consideration for a layperson to make a sound and reasoned decision, such as whether designing a restaurant with a step drop off instead of a ramp or gradual incline was negligent.  Accordingly, Subway’s motion for summary judgment was granted and the trial court urged the Pennsylvania Superior Court to uphold their decision on appeal.
Thanks to Erin Connolly for her contribution.
For more information, contact Denise Fontana Ricci at <a href="mailto:dricci@wcmlaw.com">dricci@wcmlaw.com</a>.

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