Summary Judgment Granted in Favor of the Defendants in a Catastrophic Injury Product Liability Tort Case

February 14, 2023

Attorneys Debbie Etlinger and Erin Canalia won a Summary Judgment Motion on behalf of their product distributor Defendant in a personal injury, product liability case. In Ahrens v. A Victoria Garden Flowers & Gifts, 2022 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2125, the Plaintiff developed infectious fungal keratitis in her right eye which she claimed was caused by her exposure to Paecilomyces lilancinus, a biopesticide used to control insect pests on flowers grown in South America. The Plaintiff’s eye injury was catastrophic; she had undergone repeated cornel eye transplants which were largely unsuccessful, and her medical bills were astronomical. Our team represented a distributor of flowers grown in South America and the Plaintiff claimed she was exposed to the biopesticide from flowers distributed by our client.

On behalf of our client we moved for summary judgment on the basis that, as a matter of law, the Plaintiff could not establish that products distributed by our client were defective or that the Plaintiff was exposed to products distributed by our clients. In response to these arguments, the Plaintiff urged the Court to 1) adopt the so-called “alternative liability doctrine” to relieve the Plaintiff of her burden of proof and to allowed her to survive summary judgment and  that 2) Connecticut employs a flexible approach to Plaintiff’s burden of proof in product liability cases such as this case.

The Court rejected both of these arguments. The Court held that the testimony that that the Plaintiff was exposed to products distributed by our client was speculative. In addition, the Court held the Plaintiff could not establish that any of the Distributor Defendant’s flowers were defective largely because not all flowers grown in South America contain this biopesticide . The Court rejected the so-called “alternative liability doctrine” and held the Plaintiff was required to prove each element of her statutory product liability claim.  It found that here she could not do so.

It is our assessment the Court’s decision has broad application in the context of toxic tort product liability cases. The Court’s decision reaffirmed that a Plaintiff has the burden of proving each element of her statutory product liability claim.

Deborah Etlinger Hartford CT insurance defense attorney
Deborah Etlinger

Deborah Etlinger practices in the areas of insurance defense and insurance coverage. She has thirty-five years of legal experience. Deborah’s clients are insurance companies seeking legal services to address complex matters and high stakes litigation. Matters include construction defect, toxic tort, employment, and defense of institutional clients in sexual molestation cases.


Erin Canalia insurance defense attorney Hartford CT
Erin E. Canalia

Erin E. Canalia’s practice focuses on insurance defense, insurance coverage and civil litigation. Her experience includes litigating cases involving complex legal and factual issues, including in the fields of product liability, employment discrimination and construction defect law. Her practice also includes litigating at the appellate level and before administrative agencies.