Chlorine Gas Leak Case Offers Lesson on Products Liability Claims

Four workers who were employed by the Prairieville-based Proserve Hydro Co. were working on at a Honeywell International facility when a hose carrying chlorine gas ruptured, causing them injury. The workers sued Triplex, Inc., the company that had sold the hose to Honeywell, under the theory that it was liable for their injuries as the manufacturer of the hose. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, applying the Louisiana Products Liability Act (LPLA), granted summary judgment in favor of Triplex, and the workers appealed.

In its review, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit noted that The Louisiana Supreme Court has identified four elements that a plaintiff must establish in a products liability suit under the LPLA. It focused particualrly on the requirement that the defendant must be the “manufacturer” of the product according to the state’s definition. The lower court’s summary judgment was based on Triplex’s position that it was not a manufacturer of the hose within the meaning of the LPLA. The hose in question was a “Resistoflex Chlorine Hose Part # HB30HB30HB-1560.” It consisted of a Teflon inner-core surrounded by a braided material jacket. The core and jacket were assembled by the Crane Resistoflex Company and shipped in bulk to Triplex for distribution. Upon receipt of an order from Honeywell, Triplex cut the hose to the requested length, installed Resistoflex-approved fittings to either end, and pressure-tested the hose. Triplex recorded the specifications of this work on an assembly test certificate which listed “Resistoflex” as the manufacturer of the hose.

The court looked to the LPLA to determine whether, based on its cutting the Resistoflex hose and installing the end fittings, Triplex fit the definition of “manufacturer.” It noted that the workers’ expert conceded that the hose rupture occured a significant distance away from any end fitting and did not appear to result from the modifications Triplex performed. It also affirmed the point that “the simple act of testing a product after modifications,” as Triplex did, “does not transform a seller into a statutory ‘manufacturer.’” The court was not persuaded that Triplex exercised any “control over… a characteristic of the design, construction or quality of the product,” given that Honeywell specified the exact Resistoflex part number and the end fittings it required. Accordingly, the court concluded that Triplex was not a manufacturer under the state law definition, and therefore could not be found liable for the workers’ injuries under the LPLA.

Although the workers presented a sympathetic case — on-the-job injuries are a serious matter that no one wants to have to face — their defeat at summary judgment demonstrates the importance of choosing a theory of recovery carefully. Louisiana’s product liability law, while certainly intended to protect innocent people from dangerous and defective items, does not aim to create liability where it does not exist. The requirement under the LPLA for a plaintiff to prove a defendant’s status as a manufacturer seeks to permit recovery only from parties who are truly responsible for creating a product.

If you have been injured by a defective product, call the Berniard Law Firm today at 866-574-8005 and speak with an expert on the LPLA who can evaluate your case and get you the recovery you deserve.