Thursday, July 2, 2020

Plaintiff Required to Prove Design Defect in Design Defect Case

In the case of Pennsylvania Nat’l Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sam’s East, Inc., PICS No. 20-0472 (C.P. Dauphin Co. April 13, 2020 Cherry, J.), the court granted a Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment in a products liability suit based upon an alleged design defect with a space heater.   

This matter arose out of a residential fire.   The insurance company Plaintiff filed a subrogation action against Sam’s East, Inc. and related parties based upon an allegation that the fire was allegedly caused by a space heater purchased at the Sam’s East, Inc. store.   

The court noted that, under Pennsylvania law, to recover in a design defect case, Plaintiff must prove that the product was defective, that the defect was the cause of the Plaintiff’s injuries, and that the defect existed at the time it left the manufacturer’s control.  

The court noted that, based upon burn patterns and physical evidence observed at the scene, it was the opinion of the Plaintiff's investigator that the fire was accidental in nature and that the fire originated within the electric space heater that was located in the basement.   

The court noted, however, that the investigator’s report did not identify any design defect, state how any alleged defect caused the heater to catch fire, or identify what type of safety design should have existed instead.   

As such matters were beyond ordinary knowledge of the average juror and, therefore, required expert opinion, the court found that the investigator’s simple conclusion that the “fire originated within the electric space heater” was insufficient to enable the Plaintiff to proceed to the jury.   The court noted that, to allow this case to proceed to the jury would have invited speculation on the part of the jury as to the cause of the fire and whether any defect was the source of the same.   

As such, the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment was granted.   

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (June 9, 2020).  

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