Summary Judgment on Sand Built of Solid Foundation by Louisiana’s Third Circuit

Summary judgment can seem like a punishment to the defeated party. Because of the final nature of these judgments, appellate courts review them de novo. This standard of review grants the appellate court the ability to look at the entire record in the court below. The Bates family experienced an additional loss at the appellate level in Bates v. E. D. Bullard Company. They lost at the trial level as a result of a summary judgment and was later affirmed on appeal.

When a judge grants a party a summary judgment he or she is in effect saying that the opposing party has no case as a matter of law and that there will not be a trial. The party that has been defeated will, however, be able to appeal this decision to the higher court. De novo review is necessary when appealing a summary judgment so that the appellate court can make the most educated decision about whether the winning party deserved a summary judgment. This level of scrutiny is higher than most.

In the case in question, it was determined that the plaintiffs did not establish a case as a matter of law against the sand defendant for several reasons. Sand is not a dangerous instrumentality; there is nothing about sand’s very nature that makes it explicitly dangerous or harmful. The defendant sold the sand to the ill plaintiff’s employer, deemed by the court to be a sophisticated user. If a buyer is sophisticated, there is no duty on the part of the manufacturer to warn the buyer of possible ill effects of certain uses of a product. This is true even though the seller likely knew or should have known that the sand would be used for sandblasting. The sand defendant’s knowledge, real or constructive, did not bear on its lack of a duty to warn the sophisticated user buyer because there was no real way of telling what the buyer would do with the sand.

It appears from the discussion in this case that the only duty to the plaintiff runs to the plaintiff’s employer. Mr. Bates’ employer likely had some duty to warn him about the danger of sandblasting with inadequate respiratory equipment. The court mentions O.S.H.A. requirements that apply to this situation. While the plaintiff may still have been able to file suit against his employer if he did not already do so in this case, the fact remains he did not have cause against the sand seller for any actions that were done improperly.

There are many reasons to apply strict liability to a class of cases. There are also many consequences of doing so. Strict liability makes a person or entity responsible for the consequences of his, her or its actions or inactions regardless of culpability. There are certain portions of human conduct and interaction to which this standard lends itself. Business dealings between sophisticated entities who likely have the assistance of counsel is not one such area.

The sand defendants were entitled to their summary judgment in the eyes of the trial court and the appellate court as there was no basis for the claim against them under Louisiana law under strict liability or negligence. The fact remains that all the sand seller did was sell a relatively innocent product to another company without warning. The court held the other company to a higher standard than if the buyer had been an individual. The duty, if any exists, falls on Mr. Bates’ employer as the sophisticated buyer of an non-hazardous instrumentality to notify the users of any potential dangers which may exist. As a result, the plaintiffs failed to recover against the sand defendants.

If you have been hurt on the job by any instrumentality contact the Berniard Law Firm to find out if you have a case. Contact them at 1-866-574-8005.