Monday, March 25, 2013

Warner Fruehauf Trailer Co. v. Boston case brief

Warner Fruehauf Trailer Co. v. Boston case brief
654 A.2d 1272 (D.C. 1995)


SYNOPSIS:
Appellees, injured party and his wife, filed an action against appellant distributor, seeking damages for personal injury and loss of consortium on a theory of strict liability in tort based on the defective design of a piece of equipment. At the second trial, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia directed a verdict in favor of the injured party and his wife as to liability, and the jury awarded them damages. The distributor appealed.

OVERVIEW: At the first trial, the trial court set aside a jury verdict in favor of the distributor, ruling that the evidence had not warranted a jury instruction on the defense of assumption of risk. At the second trial, the trial court granted a directed verdict to the injured party and his wife as to liability, concluding that, as a matter of law, the equipment was defectively designed and unreasonably dangerous.

HOLDING:
On appeal, the court affirmed, holding that: (1) the assumption of risk jury instruction was unwarranted because the evidence as presented at both trials was insufficient to support a finding that the injured party had either actual knowledge of the specific defect in question or of the danger created by the defect, both of which were required to establish an assumption of risk defense in a strict liability action; and (2) a directed verdict on the issue of liability was proper because the injured party and his wife presented uncontradicted expert testimony that the equipment, as designed, was unreasonably dangerous, the warning of that danger was ineffective, and safer alternative designs providing the same utility were both economically and technologically feasible.

RULES:

  • In an action for strict liability in tort, the plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that: 
  • (1) the seller was engaged in the business of selling the product that caused the harm; 
  • (2) the product was sold in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the consumer or user; 
  • (3) the product was one which the seller expected to and did reach the plaintiff consumer or user without any substantial change from the condition in which it was sold; and 
  • (4) the defect was a direct and proximate cause of the plaintiffs injuries.
Defective product:
  • A product may be found defective if it has one of three shortcomings: 
  • (1) a manufacturing defect; 
  • (2) an absence of sufficient warnings or instructions; or 
  • (3) an unsafe design.

OUTCOME: The court affirmed the trial court's directed verdict to the injured party and his wife on the issue of liability.

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