Justia Products Liability Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Commercial Law
Oberdorf v. Amazon.com Inc
Oberdorf walked her dog with a retractable leash. Unexpectedly, the dog lunged. The D-ring on the collar broke and the leash recoiled and hit Oberdorf’s face and eyeglasses, leaving Oberdorf permanently blind in her left eye. Oberdorf bought the collar on Amazon.com. She sued Amazon.com, including claims for strict products liability and negligence. The district court found that, under Pennsylvania law, Amazon was not liable for Oberdorf’s injuries. A third-party vendor, not Amazon itself, had listed the collar on Amazon’s online marketplace and shipped the collar directly to Oberdorf. The court found that Amazon was not a “seller” under Pennsylvania law and that Oberdorf’s claims were barred by the Communications Decency Act (CDA) because she sought to hold Amazon liable for its role as the online publisher of third-party content. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded. Amazon is a “seller” under section 402A of the Second Restatement of Torts and thus subject to the Pennsylvania strict products liability law. Amazon’s involvement in transactions extends beyond a mere editorial function; it plays a large role in the actual sales process. Oberdorf’s claims against Amazon are not barred by section 230 of the CDA except as they rely upon a “failure to warn” theory of liability. The court affirmed the dismissal under the CDA of the failure to warn claims. View "Oberdorf v. Amazon.com Inc" on Justia Law
Duncan Place Owners Associatio v. Danze, Inc.
Seattle’s Duncan Place condominium complex was built in 2009, with Danze faucets in all 63 units. The faucets’ water hoses can corrode and crack in normal use. Several faucets failed, causing property damage and replacement costs. Danze’s “limited lifetime warranty” promises to replace defective parts. Danze refused to repair or replace the faucets. The Owners Association filed suit on behalf of itself, unit owners, and a proposed nationwide class, asserting claims under Washington law. The judge rejected all claims, holding that Washington’s independent-duty doctrine barred claims of negligence and strict product liability; the unjust-enrichment claim was premised on fraud but did not satisfy the FRCP 9(b) heightened pleading requirements. A Washington claim for breach of an express warranty requires that the plaintiff was aware of the warranty. Duncan Place was unable to make that allegation in good faith with respect to any unit owners.The Seventh Circuit reversed in part. The Washington Product Liability Act subsumes the negligence and strict-liability claims; the “independent duty doctrine” generally bars recovery in tort for direct and consequential economic losses stemming from the product’s failure (damages associated with the “injury” to the product itself) but does not bar recovery for damage to other property. Duncan Place alleged in general terms that the defective faucets caused damage to other condominium property, so the WPLA claim is not entirely blocked by the independent duty doctrine. View "Duncan Place Owners Associatio v. Danze, Inc." on Justia Law
Fox v. Amazon.com, Inc.
Fox used Amazon.com to order a hoverboard equipped with a battery pack. Although Fox claims she thought she was buying from Amazon, the hoverboard was owned and sold by a third-party that used Amazon marketplace, which handles communications with the buyer and processes payments. The board arrived in an Amazon-labeled box. The parties dispute whether Amazon provided storage and shipment. In November 2015, following news reports of hoverboard fires and explosions, Amazon began an investigation. On December 11, Amazon ceased all hoverboard sales worldwide. Approximately 250,000 hoverboards had been sold on its marketplace in the previous 30 days. Amazon anticipated more fires and explosions, scheduling employees to work on December 26, to monitor news reports and customer complaints. On December 12, Amazon sent a "non-alarmist" email to hoverboard purchasers. Fox does not recall receiving the email but testified that she would not have let the hoverboard remain in her home had she known all the facts. On January 9, Matthew Fox played with the hoverboard and left it on the first floor of the family’s two-story home. When a fire later broke out, caused by the hoverboard’s battery pack, two children were trapped on the second floor. Everyone escaped with various injuries; their home was destroyed.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of allegations that Amazon sold the defective or unreasonably dangerous product (Tennessee Products Liability Act) and caused confusion about the source of that product (Tennessee Consumer Protection Act of 1977) but reversed a claim that Amazon breached a duty to warn about the defective or unreasonably dangerous nature of that product under Tennessee tort law. View "Fox v. Amazon.com, Inc." on Justia Law
Gaumer v. Rossville Truck & Tractor Co.
Plaintiff Gabriel Gaumer filed suit against Rossville Truck and Tractor Company, alleging negligence and strict liability for injuries caused by a used hay baler purchased from Rossville. The district court granted Rossville's motion for summary judgment on both the negligence and strict liability claims. The court of appeals affirmed the district court's decision regarding Gaumer's negligence claim but reversed on his strict liability claim. Rossville petitioned for review, and the Supreme Court granted the petition on the single issue of whether strict liability can be applied to a seller of used goods. After analyzing both the state's common law and the Kansas Product Liability Act, the Court held that sellers of used product are subject to strict liability in Kansas. The decision of the district court was therefore reversed, and the decision of the court of appeals was affirmed. Remanded.View "Gaumer v. Rossville Truck & Tractor Co." on Justia Law
Harodite Industries, Inc. v. Warren Electric Corp.
Plaintiff Harodite Industries filed a complaint against defendant Warren Electric for negligence and other causes of action, seeking damages for the failure of a gasket in the oil pre-heater that Harodite purchased from defendant. After conducting discovery, Harodite filed a motion to amend its complaint. The hearing justice denied Harodite's motion. Plaintiff then filed a motion for a stay pending a ruling on the petition for writ of certiorari it intended to file with the Supreme Court. Defendant objected to the motion, arguing that the court should apply a Massachusetts statute of limitations to plaintiff's proposed amended complaint. The hearing justice held that Rhode Island's ten-year statute of limitations should apply and granted Harodite's motion for a stay. The Supreme Court affirmed the rulings of the superior court, holding (1) the hearing justice did not abuse her discretion in denying Harodite's motion to amend its complaint; and (2) the hearing justice correctly determined that Rhode Island's statute of limitations would be the relevant statute of limitations with respect to the allegations set forth in Harodite's proposed amended complaint, and therefore, those allegations would not be barred by the statute of limitations.View "Harodite Industries, Inc. v. Warren Electric Corp." on Justia Law
Giddings & Lewis, Inc. v. Industrial Risk Insurers
In this case the Kentucky Supreme Court considered whether to adopt the "economic loss rule," which prevents the commercial purchaser of a product from suing in tort to recover for the economic losses arising from the malfunction of the product itself. The case involved a claim to insurers for a damaged piece of machinery. The insurers sued the manufacturers to recover the amount paid, claiming several causes of action including negligence, strict liability, and negligent misrepresentation. The trial court held the economic loss rule barred the tort claims. The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's adoption and application of the rule. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court, holding (1) the economic loss rule applies to claims arising from a defective product sold in a commercial transaction, and that the relevant product is the entire item bargained for by the parties and placed in the stream of commerce by the manufacturer; and (2) the economic loss rule applies regardless of whether the product fails over a period of time or destroys itself in a calamitous event, and the rule's application is not limited to negligence and strict liability claims but also encompasses negligent misrepresentation claims. View "Giddings & Lewis, Inc. v. Industrial Risk Insurers" on Justia Law
Glazer v. Whirlpool Corp.
The named plaintiffs are Ohio residents who purchased front-loading washing machines manufactured by defendant. Within months after their purchases, the plaintiffs noticed the smell of mold or mildew emanating from the machines and from laundry washed in the machines. One plaintiff found mold growing on the sides of the detergent dispenser, another saw mold growing on the rubber door seal, despite allowing the machine doors to stand open. They filed suit, alleging tortious breach of warranty, negligent design, and negligent failure to warn. The district court certified a class comprised of Ohio residents who purchased one of the specified machines in Ohio primarily for personal, family, or household purposes and not for resale (Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) and (b)(3)). The Sixth Circuit affirmed class certification, with proof of damages reserved for individual determination. Plaintiffs’ proof established numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequate representation. Common questions predominate over individual ones and class action is a superior method to adjudicate the claims.View "Glazer v. Whirlpool Corp." on Justia Law