In his recent products liability decision in the case of Bailey v. B.S. Quarries, Inc., No. 3:13-CV-3006 (M.D. Pa. March 31, 2016 Munley, J.), Judge James M. Munley of the Middle District Federal Court of Pennsylvania addressed cross Motions for Summary Judgment filed in a products liability case.
On one of the issues presented, the court found that, due to the actions of one of the Defendants, the Defendant was equitably estopped from claiming that it was the Plaintiff’s employer and, therefore, immune from suit under worker's compensation immunity laws. The Court stated that defendants may not manipulate the seal of immunity in an effort to shelter whichever of their entities may be at greatest risk.
The court also noted that, under Pennsylvania law, the fact that an accident was not witnessed does not make proof of causation impossible. Here, the court found that the Plaintiff’s accident reconstruction expert provided sufficient causation testimony to allow the case to proceed towards a jury.
Judge Munley also noted that sufficient evidence presented of a disregard of a known safety risk also supported allowing the plaintiff's claim for punitive damages to proceed. Judge Munley found that the evidence presented that the product manufacturer allegedly omitted a known safer method of maintenance from its operator’s manual permitted the claim for punitive damages to go forward.
Judge Munley also reaffirmed the current status of products liability law holding that, under the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in Tincher, the prior decisions of Azzarello and its progeny were no longer good law.
Rather, the Plaintiff must prove a risk-utility analysis supporting claims that harm was caused by a defective condition or, in the alternative, must prove evidence of an ordinary consumer’s expectations as to the risk presented by the product. The Plaintiff was found to have failed in this regard in this case and, as such, her motion for summary judgment on that particular issue was denied.
Judge Munley's Opinion can be viewed HERE and his corresponding Orders can be viewed HERE.
I send thanks to Attorney James Beck of the Philadelphia office of Reid Smith and the writer of the notable legal blog, The Drug and Device Law Blog.