Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Verdict Survey: Tankless Water Heaters in Dorchester County

The May 2013 issue of Verdict Search included a South Carolina products liability case tried in Dorchester County.  The details of the case are set forth below.

Capsule Summary:   On March 1, 2013, a Dorchester County jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff for $750,000 in a case involving tankless water heaters purchased by the plaintiff plumbing company.  Plaintiff alleged the tankless water heaters it purchased failed once temperatures began to drop in the winter, causing water pipes in the homes in which they were installed to burst. 
Case Information: Amo, LLC v. Eccotemp Systems, LLC, Greenwave Hot Water Heaters, LLC/Eccotemp Systems, LLC v. Hurricane Construction, Inc., C/A No. 2010-CP-18-01920, Dorchester County Court of Common Pleas.
Date of Verdict:  March 1, 2013
Factual Background:  In 2008, Plaintiff Amo, LLC (“Amo”) (a plumbing company) purchased 75 tankless water heaters and installed them in various homes.  Amo purchased the units from Eccotemp Systems, LLC (“Eccotemp”).  The water heaters were supposed to produce warm water on demand and conserve energy.  They were also allegedly 30 to 40 percent less expensive than the price of competitor products that were similar.  Amo paid $498 per unit.  In the winter of 2008, and as temperatures began to fall, the units Amo purchased began to fail and caused water pipes in the homes in which they were installed to burst. 
Allegations and Procedure: Amo sued Eccotemp and claimed Eccotemp manufactured and sold a defective product.  Amo alleged causes of action for breach of warranty, breach of contract, and violation of the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act.  Amo also named the retailer that sold the water heaters, but the retailer was dismissed later by Plaintiff’s counsel.  Eccotemp then impleaded Hurricane Construction, Inc. (the homebuilder) for whom Amo installed the units, but Hurricane was dismissed from the case prior to trial.
At trial, Amo's counsel argued Eccotemp’s products included broken thermostats, which caused water pipes to freeze.  The thermostats also caused the units to malfunction and not heat water inside the units if temperatures dropped below 37 degrees fahrenheit.   There was testimony at trial that 70 percent of units sold to Amo by Eccotemp failed.  Eccotemp replaced 40 of the units, and 14 of them froze again.  Amo's counsel argued that several homeowners experienced as many as three Eccotemp water heater failures in their homes during the cold months.  When Amo replaced the Eccotemp units with a competitor’s units, those units did not fail.  Amo introduced evidence of a pattern of behavior by Eccotemp, including evidence that homeowners in several states had similar problems with the water heaters.
Eccotemp argued that the products' failure was not the result of a product defect.  Instead, it argued Amo's employees installed the units in the homes incorrectly.  Eccotemp also claimed the homeowners contributed to failure of the units and frozen water pipes by not allowing their pipes to drip during cold weather.
Experts: Amo's expert was Gary Roland, a plumber in Lexington, South Carolina.  Defendant’s expert was Michael Richmond, a plumber in Charleston, South Carolina. 
Alleged Damages:  Amo's counsel sought a recovery of $158,000, as well as attorney’s fees and costs.  Amo's counsel requested that the damages be trebled pursuant to the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act.  Defendant’s counsel disputed these damages.
Result: The jury returned a Plaintiff’s verdict, in favor of Amo and determined the damages for breach of warranty, breach of contract, and unfair trade practices totaled $750,000.  The jury apportioned $125,000 to breach of warranty, $158,000 to breach of contract, and $474,000 to the unfair trade practices claim.
Miscellaneous:  The last demand in the case was $85,000.  The last offer was $42,500, which the write-up indicates was withdrawn.  After the verdict, Eccotemp filed a motion for a mistrial, which was denied.  Eccotemp filed a Notice of Appeal with the South Carolina Court of Appeals and also filed for United States Bankruptcy Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  The write-up indicates the information contained therein was provided by Plaintiff’s counsel, and none of the Defendants’ counsel responded to inquiries.
Thanks to the May 2013, Volume 12, Issue 5 of Verdict Search for this information.  I also frequently use their verdict search engine, www.verdictsearch.com.

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