Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Unintended Use in Products Liability Lawsuits- Reott III

The final issue in this Butler County products liability case was Asia Trend’s argument that the Pennsylvania Superior Court’s earlier holding in Pa. Dept. of General Services v. U.S. Mineral Products Co., 898 A.2d (2006) required the trial court to admit any evidence that Reott used the tree stand in a way not intended by the manufacturer. Specifically, Asia Trend relied on the Court’s holding that “a manufacturer can be deemed liable only for harm that occurs in connection with a product’s intended use by an intended user.” Asia Trend then argued that Reott’s conduct should not have been excluded because it was offered to show that Reott was not using the tree stand in the way it was intended i.e. Reott did not precisely follow the instructions.

Once again the Superior Court was not persuaded pointing out that Asia Trend had mixed up two distinct concepts in products liability law: the doctrine of unintended use with the affirmative defense of misuse. Product misuse relates to the causation of Reott’s injuries previously discussed here and here.

The General Services case stood for the proposition that because materials were not being used in a way intended by the manufacturer, the materials were not legally defective. The Superior Court pointed to another similar holding from the Supreme Court that a butane lighter was not a defective product for lack of child safety features because (surprise!) it was never intended to be used by children as a toy or plaything. Philips v. Cricket Lighters, 841 A.2d 1000 (Pa. 2003).

Conversely, in Reott, Asia Trend admitted the defectiveness of the tree stand. I feel, however, that the Superior Court here in Reott left out one sentence explaining how Reott’s actions differed from those described in General Services and Phillips. I guess because Asia Trend admitted that the product was defective they were precluded from relying upon the unintended use doctrine. The Superior Court in Reott just went on to say that “because the collapse of the tree stand was indisputably a substantial factor in causing Reott’s injuries, the trial court correctly reasoned that any evidence of Reott’s conduct was admissible only to the extent that it was introduced to show that his conduct was a sole or superseding cause of the collapse. Because Asia Trend never contended that Reott’s failure to wear the safety strap or test the stand at ground level were the sole or superseding causes of his injures, the trial court properly granted Reott’s motion in limine.” Share this post :
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