XX. Products Liability: Manufacturing Defects | Shailin Thomas | October 22, 2013

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XX. Products Liability: Manufacturing Defects

Original Creator: Jonathan Zittrain Current Version: Shailin Thomas Show/Hide

If you’re hurt by a poorly made product, you might well have a straightforward negligence case against the manufacturer. But as mass production ramped up over the last century, some judges found the existing negligence frame unsatisfactory. Escola is famous not for its majority opinion but its concurrence, one in which Justice Traynor urges a seemingly entirely new regime for the burgeoning number of cases in which a product hurts a consumer: strict liability.

Within a few years, Traynor’s vision become a majority one in many jurisdictions, including his own California, though with enough caveats that the “strict” is probably no longer the best moniker. Instead, it’s a regime all its own: products liability.

Today’s and tomorrow’s cases look at products liability and its caveats, including what would become three major types of cases brought under its rubric: manufacturing defect, design defect, and failure of warnings. As you read this cases, it’s worth considering, both in theory and in practice, when a case that would work under products liability would fail in plain negligence – or vice versa.

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    1. 1.1 Show/Hide More Keen v. Dominick's Finer Foods, Inc. -- "The Defective Shopping Cart"
      Original Creator: Jonathan Zittrain Current Version: Shailin Thomas
      Should businesses be liable for defective products which are gratuitously provided to facilitate sales, and are not objects of sale themselves?
      Notes:
      Plaintiff is injured by a defective shopping cart in defendant’s grocery store.
    2. 1.2 Show/Hide More Emery v. Federated Foods, Inc. -- "The Toddlers Shouldn't Eat Marshmallows Case"
      Original Creator: Jonathan Zittrain Current Version: Shailin Thomas
      Aside from manufacturing and design defects, should courts hold manufacturer's liable for a failure to warn customers of the risks involved in the use of a product?
      Notes:
      Plaintiff was a toddler who choked on marshmallows manufactured by the defendant, and thereby suffered severe brain damage. The bag the marshmallows came in had no labels identifying marshmallows as a choking hazard for young children. The plaintiff did not claim that the marshmallows were improperly manufactured or designed. Rather, the plaintiff claimed the defendant should be liable for failure to warn consumers that marshmallows are a choking hazard for young children.
    3. 1.4 Show/Hide More MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co.--"The Broken Wooden Wheel Case"
      Original Creator: Jonathan Zittrain Current Version: Shailin Thomas
      Should a manufacturer be liable for harm caused by defective products if the person harmed is not the person whom the manufacturer sold the product to?
      Notes:
      Defendant sold an automobile to a retail dealer, who then resold it to the plaintiff. While the plaintiff was in the car, it suddenly collapsed, throwing him out of the car and injuring him. One of the wheels was made of defective wood and had crumbled at the time of the accident. Although the defendant had purchased the wheel from another manufacturer, the defect could have been discovered by reasonable inspection.
    4. 1.5 Show/Hide More Rix v. General Motors Corp. -- "The Truck that couldn't Brake"
      Original Creator: Jonathan Zittrain Current Version: Shailin Thomas
      This case contrasts manufacturing and design defects by analyzing each products liability theory in parallel.
      Notes:
      Plaintiff was injured when a truck hit him from behind due to its brake system falling apart. The truck was manufactured by the defendant motor corporation, but modified after-sale by the dealer. Due to the weight of the after-sale modification, it is possible that the accident would have occurred anyway as the installed brake system may have lacked sufficient braking power to stop the truck. However, at the time of purchase, the defendant motor corporation offered an alternative brake system that may have been powerful enough to stop the modified truck.
    5. 1.6 Show/Hide More Ryan v. Progressive Grocery Stores, Inc. -- "The Pin in the Bread Case"
      Original Creator: Jonathan Zittrain Current Version: Shailin Thomas
      Should mere sellers of a defective good be liable for latent defects that are likely created by the manufacturer?
      Notes:
      Plaintiff was injured when he bit into a loaf of bread that had a pin in it. The loaf had been purchased from the defendant's store. At the time of the purchase, the plaintiff's wife had specified the brand of read. The defendant's salesman gave the plaintiff's wife the desired loaf of bread, still wrapped in a factory-sealed package.
    6. 1.7 Show/Hide More Escola v. Coca Cola Bottling Company of Fresno--"The Exploding Coke Bottle Case"
      Original Creator: Jonathan Zittrain Current Version: Shailin Thomas
      Should manufacturers face potential towards any individual injured by defective products, even if there is no direct transaction between the injured individual and the manufacturer?
      Notes:
      Plaintiff—a waitress in a restaurant—was injured when a glass bottle of Coca Cola exploded in her hand while she was stocking a refrigerator.
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February 17, 2014

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