Wednesday, March 7, 2007

A Products Liability Primer

If you have not done much products liability work, the First Department offers an instructive opinion in Donovan v. All-Weld Products Corp., decided on March 6, 2007. Plaintiff's decedent, wearing an air respirator helmet, had been asphyxiated while sandblasting. The court began by noting that, for an action to sound in strict products liability, "a plaintiff may assert that the product is defective because of a mistake in the manufacturing process or because of an improper design or because the manufacturer failed to provide adequate warnings regarding the use of the product." Here, plaintiff had alleged defective design, which, as the court continued, means that when the product left the seller's hands it was "in a condition not reasonably contemplated by the ultimate consumer and is unreasonably dangerous for its intended use." Defendant offered uncontroverted documentary evidence in the form of various safety agency verifications that the respirator in question (1) was reasonably safe for its intended use and (2) had been functioning properly on the day of the accident. The burden shifted to the plaintiff who offered expert testimony as to the availability of additional features which plaintiff claimed would have made the respirator safer. The court found, though, that plaintiff did not make the necessary connection between those additional features and the accident, and granted summary judgment to defendant.