Although the complained of diaper rash is probably more serious than other famous rashes, there are a couple of things (at least) that are concerning to me about this litigation. First, it centers on diaper rash. Is this really what the founding fathers had in mind when they signed the Declaration of Independence, preserving the right to sue over diaper rash? As noted by the National Library of Medicine, “[m]ost babies who wear diapers will have some type of diaper rash.” (To its credit, the NLM also notes that diaper rash is “rash in the diaper area,” lest one think that the diaper itself can experience rash.)
Q: How often did you change Junior’s diaper?
A: As often as he needed it.
Q: Did you ever leave a wet diaper on your child?
A: Never. I stand at the ready when my child urinates.
Moreover, the plaintiffs will develop some pediatric toxicologist who will say that it is more probable than not that Pampers causes diaper rash. I’m not sure what the failure to mitigate argument looks like, since carpet cleaning can be fairly expensive.
An Illinois woman has recently filed suit against Ohio-based vacuum manufacturer The Kirby Company for $200,000, reports the Chicago Sun-Times, alleging her defective vacuum cleaner broke during use and sucked the hair out of her scalp.
The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Illinois on April 23, reportedly sets forth that the vacuum was “defective and unreasonably dangerous” and that Kirby sold the vacuum without adequate testing and without proper warnings of the hazards of personal injuries. The plaintiff’s Chicago-area lawyer, Thomas A. Reed, to whom the plaintiff referred all questions, has told the media that his client was using the vacuum hose to clean underneath her bed when the attachment broke, “causing a tremendous sucking that took her hair right into the machine.” He declined to discuss the extent of his client’s injuries, but did indicate that she was rushed to the emergency room after the incident.
The suit has generated considerable discussion. See local Chicago NBC coverage here, where a poll shows that 79 percent of Chicago locals think the story is laughable, or commentary here, where one writer notes the marketing potential (“Hairs on the floor don’t stand a chance!”).
In spite of the skepticism surrounding the suit, there appears to be evidence to suggest her claim may have legs. Video coverage at Fox News includes pictures of the woman’s scalp allegedly showing the injury to her head. The pictures were thought to be so disturbing that the affected area of the woman’s scalp were blurred for the television clip.
It’s certainly an interesting set of facts. We’ll have to see where this one goes.
The Plaintiff brought suit both in her individual capacity and as parent and guardian of her minor daughter against the New York-based sperm bank, setting forth causes of action for strict products liability and breach of express and implied warranties of merchantability. The Plaintiff began her research to find a sperm bank in 1994, when she was promised by Defendant Idant Laboratories that its donors went though a rigorous screening process to ensure they had good genetic backgrounds and that the company employed a screening program that far exceeded mandated standards. She thereafter purchased sperm from the Defendant and gave birth to her daughter in 1996. The Plaintiff then began to notice abnormalities in her daughter’s development. Subsequent genetic testing revealed that the child had Fragile X syndrome, a genetic mutation that causes mental retardation and behavioral disorders, as a result of the genetic defect of the sperm donor.
Initially, the district court judge ruled that, pursuant to New York law, the sperm bank could be sued under products liability laws because “the sale of sperm is considered a product and is subject to strict liability.” However, two months later, the judge reversed himself and dismissed the case in its entirety, predicting that New York’s appellate court would reject Plaintiff’s claims.
The Third Circuit affirmed the judge’s second decision. In a thought-provoking opinion penned by Circuit Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, (interestingly, she’s Donald Trump’s older sister), she held that the child’s impaired genetic makeup was not a cognizable injury. She explained:
Wrongful life cases pose particularly thorny problems in the damages context. Simply put, a cause of action brought on behalf of an infant seeking recovery for wrongful life demands a calculation of damages dependant upon a comparison between the Hobson’s choice of life in an impaired state and nonexistence. This comparison the law is not equipped to make. . . . The difficulties that [the child] now faces and will face are surely tragic, but . . . she like any other child, does not have a protected right to be born free of genetic defects. To find to the contrary would invite litigation for any number of claimed injuries and, even more problematic, require courts to identify certain traits below some arbitrarily established marker of perfection as “injuries.”
D.D. at *10, 11 (internal citations omitted).
“Whether it is better never to have been born at all than to have been born with even gross deficiencies,” Judge Barry quoted from a separate court’s opinion, “is a mystery more properly to be left to the philosophers and the theologians.” This is certainly an interesting lawsuit that has generated an intriguing opinion and sparked considerable discussion. To see some other bloggers’ and commentators’ views on the issue, see here, where the author notes the fallacy of considering one’s personal imperfection an injury for which another is to be held responsible, and here, where a reader disagreed with the lower court’s initial ruling allowing the case to go forward, arguing that creating a life is a “gamble” irrespective of how the parent goes about it.
As I prepare to leave for Las Vegas to attend the annual DRI Products Liability Conference, I have been thinking about the current state of products liability law in the United States. As everyone knows, our current products liability law consists of separate laws – including a myriad of statutes, codes and case law – in every state, some of which conflict and some of which overlap, supplemented by various federal laws, rules and regulations. As a result of this conflicting system, U.S. products manufacturers face increasingly complex and expensive litigation which has expanded exponentially over the years. With a couple of possible exceptions, one would be hard-pressed to find an area of litigation that has become more expensive than products liability.
There is also no question that manufacturers who produce products for use in the United States are the most regulated, legislated and litigated industry in the world. The question is whether there is too much regulation and litigation and, if so, what can and/or should be done to ease this burden so as to ensure that U.S. products manufacturers can compete in the global economy. It is obvious that relief is needed. We have all read the news and it is not good. Jobs are being lost daily, the United States industrial and manufacturing community is shrinking rapidly, if not dying, and products manufacturers face substantial litigation exposure and expense, all of which makes it extremely difficult for them to compete.
This burden needs to be substantially reduced. So what to do? Some would say the answer is to take products liability law out of the hands of the states and place it under the control of the federal government in the name of uniformity and consistency. God forbid that this occur. While allowing states to generally control products law does lead to some problems and inconsistencies, the federal government has done nothing worthwhile in the legislative arena in the last several decades and what it has done generally creates more problems than it solves. The current health care fiasco will, I believe, prove this point conclusively. That legislation will most assuredly lead us down the path of substantially higher health care costs, increased taxes and decreased quality of care. Turning control of the health care system in America over to the likes of Congress, including congressmen who are afraid Guam might tip over, and whoever might be in the White House at any given moment is a terrible idea and allowing it to take over products liability law would be just as bad, if not worse.
Another, and I would submit, much more appropriate remedy is to abolish the doctrine of strict liability. Strict liability laws were introduced at a time when products manufacturers needed regulating. These laws have clearly served their purpose of requiring U.S. manufacturers to make the safest products in the world. That they do so is really without question. To coin a phrase – planes, trains and automobiles – as well as toys, food, electronics, pharmaceutical products, medical devices, you name it – if it is designed and manufactured to be sold here, it is the safest product in the world. However, the doctrine of strict liability is no longer used to ensure reasonable safety; rather, it has gone beyond reasonableness to the point where a degree of “defensive design and manufacturing” akin to the concept of defensive medicine, is required. This has driven up costs, both on the design and manufacturing side as well as the back-end cost of defending litigation involving strict liability claims.
Assuming this to be the case, one answer is to do away with strict liability laws. Would doing so result in manufacturers suddenly abandoning the concept of making safe products? I think not. Would it result in a multitude of defective products being dumped into the marketplace? I think not. Would it result in manufacturers being able to make sensible decisions in designing and manufacturing products without having to worry about the concept of “defensive design and manufacturing,” thus lowering costs? I think so. Would it result in fewer frivolous claims being filed and litigation costs being driven down substantially? I think so. Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not!
Let me hasten to say that I do not believe that manufacturers should be insulated from liability where they are negligent and/or grossly negligent in connection with the design or manufacture of products. If they are negligent and they cause harm, they should pay reasonable actual damages. If they are reckless and consciously indifferent in their conduct, they should be liable for reasonable punitive damages. However, should they be liable after having used all due and reasonable care in the design and manufacturing process simply because some paid expert somewhere says that he or she thinks the product is defective or unreasonably dangerous? It seems to me that the time for that cause of action has come and gone.
As society changes, laws which, when enacted, fulfilled a valid and societal purpose become unnecessary. It is no longer necessary for us to legislate the manufacture and use of buggy whips. Times change, and the need for laws change, as well. Has the time to do away with the concept of strict liability arrived? I think so.
While Kim Gentry was shopping at Petco Animal Supplies, Inc., she picked up a York Peppermint Pattie that was for sale and bit into it. I know what you are all thinking: Yes, it is another issue that candy is sold at Petco and that people eat it in the store. After Ms. Gentry discovered that there was larvae inside the candy, she was treated for food poisoning. Since the event, she had undergone psychological counseling. Gentry filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer, The Hershey Company; the distributor, Liberty Distribution, L.L.C.; and the retailer, Petco, for strict liability, breach of implied and express warranties, negligence, and negligence se.
On Petco’s motion for summary judgment, the Court agreed with Petco on Gentry’s negligence per se claim as Gentry did not point to any statutory provision other than those under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and Tennessee Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which have been held to have no private action attached. The Court also found that Petco was not liable for strict liability because the applicable statute in Tennessee only permits a strict liability action against a seller when the seller is also the manufacturer or when the manufacturer cannot be located or is insolvent.
This case again shows the importance of expert testimony, as the use of expert testimony was instrumental in absolving Hershey and Liberty from strict product liability. As a result of this decision, Ms. Gentry will be able to present her case on implied warranty and negligence to a jury.
In that case, the Plaintiff, an Oklahoma City dental hygienist, was traveling with her husband to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Id. at *1. As Mrs. Hammond was preparing to iron a wrinkled garment, she reached for the clothes iron. The court recounted what followed:
As Plaintiff slid the clothes iron’s plug into the socket in her hotel room, the plug exploded in her right hand and a ball of fire shot out from the wall. As a result of the explosion, plaintiff’s hand was charred and her hand and arm were electrocuted, causing neurological damage.
[a] supplier of a product is subject to liability in damages for harm to a person or to property if: (1) The supplier is engaged in the business of manufacturing, assembling, selling, leasing, or otherwise distributing the product; (2) The product was supplied by him or her in a defective condition that rendered it unreasonably dangerous; and (3) The defective condition was a proximate cause of the harm to a person or to property.
Ark.Code. Ann. § 4-86-102(a) (2009).
(6)(A) “Supplier” means any individual or entity engaged in the business of selling a product, whether the sale is for resale or for use or
(B) “Supplier” includes a retailer, wholesaler, or distributor and also includes a lessor or bailor engaged in the business of
leasing or bailment of a product.
(C) “Supplier” shall not include any licensee, as the term is defined in § 17-42-103(10), who is providing only brokerage and sales services under a license;….
Ark.Code Ann. § 16-116-102(6) (2009).
The Hammond court’s analysis is sound. Hotels simply do not place incidental products such as clothes irons or toothpaste into the stream of commerce. It’s logical to conclude that they are not sellers or suppliers. As such, I really need to stop thinking of hotels as a supplier of my necessities or better yet, I need to start double-checking my luggage when I travel!
Are the Owners and Operators of a Parking Lot in the Business of Selling a Product Under Section 402A?
The Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Anastasio v. Kahn, No. 09-5213, 2010 WL 114879 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 13, 2010) [PDF] was recently asked to decide this question and held that owners and operators of property used as a parking lot were not sellers under Section 402A of the Second Restatement of Torts.
Plaintiff Theresa Anastasio exited an Acme supermarket on the sidewalk while operating a battery-powered scooter. The sidewalk and parking area were on the same level and there were “no marked crossings, crosswalks, skywalks, tunnels or any other sort of pathway, markings or stripings on the premises to mark off where a pedestrian . . . could go to be sure they were safe from motor traffic.” Id. at *1. As Anastasio was proceeding into the parking area, Defendant Harvey Kahn, Jr. struck her with his vehicle. As a result of this accident, Anastasio filed suit against Kahn, the supermarket, and the owners and operators of the parking lot asserting claims under both the Americans with Disabilities Act and state law strict liability.
The supermarket and the owners and operators of the parking lot moved to dismiss the strict liability claims, asserting that (1) the parking lot is not a “product” and (2) they are not “sellers” under Section 402A. The Court agreed and dismissed those claims. In so doing, the Court stated that this specific question had not been addressed by any Pennsylvania state court or the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Therefore, the Court looked to interpretations of the word “seller” by Pennsylvania courts and found that, while interpreted broadly, it always involved the “transfer of possession of the subject product.” For instance, the Court cited to two decisions, one finding that United Airlines was not a seller because it was not in the business of transferring possession of an aircraft, and another finding that an amusement park was not a seller because it did not transfer control or possession of the park ride at issue.
Relying on this precedent and decisions from other jurisdictions, the Court found that since there was no transfer of a parking space, the supermarket and the owners and operators of the parking lot were not “sellers” and were not subject to strict liability under Section 402A. The Court also noted that this decision was in line with Pennsylvania law that strict liability principles are generally inapplicable to real property. Since the Court found that defendants were not “sellers” under Section 402A, it did not have to address defendants’ second argument that the parking lot was not a “product.”
This question had not previously been addressed in the Pennsylvania courts; it’s likely that it has not been addressed in many jurisdictions. Owners and operators of parking lots, or similar real property, that are faced with a strict liability claim should be aware of this argument and the precedent holding these persons and entities are not “sellers.”