Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pennsylvania Middle District Court Allows Products Liability Malfunction Theory Case to Proceed on Circumstantial Evidence

In his Opinion issued in the case of Liberty Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Sharp Electronics Corp., 2011 WL 2632880 (M.D.Pa. July 5, 2011, Jones, J.), United States Middle District Judge John E. Jones III allowed a shopping center fire lawsuit to proceed beyond the summary judgment stage in a products liability case where the plaintiff was relying upon circumstantial evidence to support a "malfunction theory" of liability.

Judge Jones ruled that, in addition to solely relying upon circumstantial evidence, the plaintiff's expert would also be permitted to rely upon a process of elimination to prove the existence of an alleged defect.

In this case, it was alleged that a shopping center fire originated out of an electrical defect in a cash register manufactured by the defendant.

Judge Jones ruled that, under Pennsylvania law, the malfunction theory allows a plaintiff to assert a strict product liability claim "based purely on circumstantial evidence in cases where the allegedly defective product has been destroyed or is otherwise unavailable."  In this case, the cash register was destroyed in the fire.

The plaintiffs' expert in this matter opined that the precise cause of the electrical fault in the cash register could not be identified due to the damage sustained by the cash register in the fire.  However, the expert also concluded that the fire must have been caused by an assembly defect because all of the evidence pointed to the defendant's cash register as the origin of the fire. 

Based upon this showing, the court allowed the plaintiff's case to proceed beyond the summary judgment stage.

Source: Article: "Circumstantial Evidence Enough to Argue Product Defect, Judge Says," by Shannon P. Duffy, The Legal Intelligencer (7/12/2011).

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