Recently, we provided some commentary about an Alabama court’s interpretation of what is “reasonably foreseeable” with regard to the operation (or accidental operation) of a handgun. As a quick reminder, that case involved a man who wound up shooting himself in the stomach because he carried his gun without any safeties engaged. That court denied the gun manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment, buying the argument by the plaintiff’s lawyers that a gun manufacturer should have reasonably anticipated that a carrier of the derringer might need to fire the gun so quickly that “a pause to disengage the two safety features [of the derringer] would destroy the defensive advantage he was buying.” Today, we will continue our inquiry into what different jurisdictions perceive to be “reasonably foreseeable” in the products liability context. Conveniently, this also continues another journey we seem to be on: the search for the stupidest plaintiff.
The case is Mohr v. Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd., A-5194-10T4 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. July 19, 2013). The plaintiff in this case lifted up the back of his friend’s Yamaha snowmobile–while the engine was running. The track broke while the end was in the air and gave the plaintiff such a bad leg injury that the leg had to be amputated.
The plaintiff sued Yamaha on theories of products liability, “claiming that . . . Yamaha had failed to provide an adequate warning against lifting the machine while it was running.” At trial, the jury found Yamaha liable for failure to warn. There is some interesting commentary about the presence and adequacy of the warnings, but we find the issue of “foreseeable misuse” more interesting, in light of our recent Alabama gun case. The court in this case provided some reminders about use and misuse under New Jersey law:
To prove that a product is dangerous and thus requires a warning, a plaintiff must address the issue of product misuse, either by proving that the product was not misused, or by proving that the misuse that occurred was foreseeable. A defendant may still be liable when a plaintiff misused the product, if the misuse was objectively foreseeable. The absence of misuse is part of the plaintiff’s case. Misuse is not an affirmative defense. Thus, the plaintiff has the burden of showing that there was no misuse or that the misuse was objectively foreseeable.
In fact, in a colloquy with the court on the first day of the trial, defendants’ attorney essentially conceded that plaintiff’s misuse was foreseeable, and the judge restated his understanding that “as Yamaha’s counsel now states, there is no contention that this particular hazard or risk was not foreseeable.”