Oil Pump Injury Demonstrates Limits of Liability for Child’s Injury

Over the course of the last century, products liability law has become more detailed and specific in terms of protecting consumers from injury caused by products. If a product is found to be defective, in most cases any sellers along the chain of sale can be held liable. This means that, from the manufacturers to the retailer, all parties can be held liable if damage is caused by a product. The reason for this trend in the law is to give the benefit of the doubt to the consumer because the consumer needs protection. Further, stricter laws force manufacturers to produce better products. If they know that a defective product could potentially results in a multi-million dollar law suit, they will make sure the products they produce are safe.

This protection is especially true as it pertains to young children. Because children have less experience in life, there is a higher chance that they can make a mistake which would be unreasonable to make if it were an adult. However, even the law does not extend such benefits fully to all actions by children and teenagers. In a recent case, Payne v. Gardner, the Louisiana Supreme Court identified a point at which even a teenager could not be protected.

In 2004, in Rapides Parish, Henry Goudeau was playing around an oil well pump. The oil well pumps on oil wells move back and forth like a pendulum. As Henry was playing around the oil well pump, he noticed the movement of the pump and decided to use the pump as a pendulum type swing for recreational purposes. Afer he jumped on the pump when it reached its highest point, his leg got caught in another part of the pump which unfortunately lead Henry to be seriously injured. Henry’s mother decided to sue the manufacturer of the pump, Lufkin Industries. A serious battle arose as to whom the blame should fall upon. Should Lufkin have know that their pumps would be used as a ride? Should Henry have used better care in making a determination of whether it was safe to ride on the pump?

In situations like this there can be no simple answer. However, the determination must be made with insight into the facts that existed at the time, and their relation to the law. At the trial court level, the court agreed with Lufkin. On appeal, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision. The case ultimately found its way to the Supreme Court. The products liablity act in Louisiana is as follows:

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

Further, reasonably anticipated use is defined as, “a use or handling of a product that the product’s manufacturer should reasonable expect of an ordinary person in the same or similar circumstances.” Lukfin provided evidence that at the time the oil well pump was built, 50 years ago, the sole purpose of the pump was to extract oil. There was never any intent on the part of the company to make its pump available for recreational use. The Supreme Court agreed and stated that on the part of the company, riding the pump would not be a reasonable foreseeable use. Thus, Lufkin had met its burden of proving that it used care when creating its product.

Although Henry was unlucky in his tragic accident and his ultimate case, one can never know who is legally to blame for an injury caused by a product or a machine.

If you feel that you have a claim, please call the Berniard Law firm to speak to an attorney who can help.