Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Judge Mannion of Federal Middle District Addresses Products Liability Issues

In his recent decision in the case of Dorshimer v. Zonar Systems, Inc., No. 3-13-0553 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 18, 2015 Mannion, J.), Judge Malachy E. Mannion granted in part and denied in part a summary judgment motion in a products liability matter.  

The product at issue was a handheld device used by bus drivers to complete pre-trip and post-trip inspections of the bus.  The Plaintiff, a school bus driver, fell and was alleged injured when she attempted to reach for the device which was mounted to the inside of the bus at a location over and above the entrance steps near to the bus.

The court generally noted that a product is defective when it is unsafe for its intended use.  The also court noted that a manufacturer has a nondelegable duty to make products that are free from any defective conditions unreasonably dangerous to the consumer.    

Relative to the Plaintiff’s strict liability design defect claim, Judge Mannion found that this claim failed for lack of evidence that the design of either the product or its mounts were unreasonably dangerous.  The court noted that the Plaintiff was not injured by the product itself, but rather, fell trying to reach the product, which had been installed in a place that was difficult to reach.  The court found no evidence in the record that anything about the product itself was unreasonably dangerous or that it had to be placed in a particular location.  

Moreover, the court found that the Plaintiff offered no alternative design theory.  Accordingly, absent evidence that a product’s design was not reasonably safe, the court found that a strict liability claim for a design defect failed in this matter.

On the Plaintiff’s claims of inadequate warnings, the court generally noted that inadequate warnings could render a product unreasonably dangerous.   Whether or not a warning is adequate is evaluated, in part, on the basis of whether a better warning would have prevented an injury. 

Here Judge Mannion found that the Plaintiff’s warning claim failed for lack of causation.   The record revealed that the Plaintiff was an experienced user of the product and was well aware of its relatively inaccessible location.   As the Plaintiff had worked with this particular product for more than two (2) years leading up to the incident, the court found that the risk posed by the location of the product was obvious to the Plaintiff.  Accordingly, no warning was required under the law. 
Judge Malachy E. Mannion
Federal Middle District Court

The court also ruled that awareness of the risk presented rebuts any heeding presumption allowed in products liability law.  

Judge Mannion also found that, under the Tincher case, negligence forms an additional basis for liability separate and apart from a strict liablity claim.   Here, the court found that the Plaintiff presented sufficient facts to support a negligence claim for failure to adequately claim the Plaintiff’s employer’s product installers.  

Anyone wishing to review this Dorshimer decision by Judge Mannion may click this LINK

I thank Attorney James M. Beck of the Philadelphia office of Reid Smith for bringing this case to my attention. 

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