Mother Successfully Appeals Motion for Summary Judgment Against Her Case

In 1988, Louisiana enacted the Louisiana Products Liability Act (LPLA) which provides for strict liability causes of actions against manufacturers of alledgedly defective products. This case is important because the ruling provides a guideline in which lawyers can litigate their client’s cases and attempt to provide them the financial recovery they deserve.

Under the LPLA, set forth in La.R.S. 9:2800:53(A):

The manufacturer of a product shall be liable to a claimant for damage proximately caused by a characteristict of the product that renders the product unreasonably dangerous when such damage arose from a reasonably anticapated use of the product by the claimant or another person or entity.

The cause of action against a manufacturer must identify whether the manufacturer fits into the LPLA’s definition of manufacturer. Louisiana Revised Statutes 9:2800:1(a)-(c) provides that a manufacturer is:

a person or entity who is in the business of manufacturing a product for placement into trade or commerce … producing, making, fabricating, constructing, designing, remanufacturing, reconditioning or refurbishing a product … labels a product as his own or who otherwise holds himself out to be the manufacturer of the product… incorporates into the product a component or part manufactured by another manufacturer.

A manufacturer can also include

A seller of a product who exercises control over or influences a characteristic of the design, construction or quality of the product that causes damage [or a] seller of a product of an alien manufacturer if the seller is in the business of importing or distributing the product for resale and the seller is the alter ego of the alien manufacturer.

The second part of the cause of action against a manufacturer is whether or not the product was unreasonably dangerous. The Louisiana Revised Statutes 9:2800:53(B)(1)-(4) further provides that a product is “unreasonably dangerous” when the product is unreasonably dangerous in construction or composition, in design, when not provided with adequate warnings, or when the product does not conform to an express warranty.

The third part of the cause of action against a manufacturer must determine whether the damage is arises from a reasonably anticipated use of the product. As with all torts, a plaintiff must show causation. This is a subject that can be found discussed thoroughly in earlier blog entries.

The LPLA governs litigation against manufacturers and is, in fact, the exclusive remedy against manufacturers. The LPLA also provides a standard that if all the elements are not met may allow manufacturers to try to dismiss the case completely. This can be seen in the following case heard recently by the Court of Appeals, Third District.

On March 9, 2004, four boys in rural Rapides Parish were walking through the woods and found an oil well pump attached to a moving pendulum. Two boys attempted to “ride” the pendulum, but only one succeeded. However, this thirteen year old boy’s high spirits and adventure only ended in injuries when his pants became entangled in the other parts of the pump while the pendulum continued to move upward. The mother of this boy brought suit in her name and her son’s name against the manufacturer of the oil jack pump, Lufkin Industries, as well as other defendants. In response, Lufkin Industries filed a Motion for Summary Judgment.

As the Third Circuit Court of Appeals explained, “[a] motion for summary judgment is a procedural device to avoid a trial on the merits when there is no genuine issue of material fact.” Lufkin Industries argued that the mother failed to show that riding the pendulum was a “reasonably anticipated use” of the oil well pump and supported this argument by assertions that the oil well pump was for the sole purpose of extracting oil and did not “reasonably anticipate” that the pendulum would be ridden. The Court also explained that in a Motion for Summary Judgment, Lufkin Industries, as the moving party only has to “point out to the court that there is an absence of factual support for one or more elements essential to the adverse party’s claim, action, or defense.” By doing that, the burden of proof shifts to the mother.

The mother demonstrated that Lufkin Industries should have reasonably expected that children would try to “ride” the pumping unit by presenting testimony that an employee of Lufkin Industries had heard of a fatal accident in Shreveport where another teenager attempted to “ride” a pumping unit as well as introducing evidence of three cases in other states where children were injured “riding” a pumping unit. The trial court determined that the mother’s evidence was insufficient and granted the manufacturer’s Motion for Summary Judgment. On appeal, the Third Circuit reversed allowing the mother to continue the case.

As is illustrated by the above case, the LPLA and the trial process is complex. Failure to prove one element can act as an end point on the entire case. If you or someone you know has been injured by a product, please seek legal help.

The Berniard Law Firm is experienced in cases like this and can provide the personal touch that can be essential in traumatic events where families require a lawyer who can give their full attention to the litigation. Call our offices today to discuss your legal rights today.