If a company manufactures a defective product, and an individual is injured by that product, the manufacturer may be liable for the damages suffered by the product-user. The product, be it a cleaning supply or an automobile part, or any number of different items found in everyday life, bears an element of responsibility of reliability and worthiness when it is delivered by a manufacturer. When that responsibility is breeched, legal remedy is available.
As the Fifth Circuit described in the seminal case of Matthews v. Remington Arms Co., in order for an injured party to win an action against a product manufacturer, that party must prove: (1) that the party, or another “person or entity” was using the product in a manner reasonably anticipated by the manufacturer; (2) that an aspect of the product directly caused the damage(s) claimed; “(3) the product was ‘unreasonably dangerous’ either in construction, design, or warning; and (4) the characteristic rendering the product unreasonably dangerous either ‘exist[ed] at the time the product left the control of its manufacturer or result[ed] from a reasonably anticipated alteration or modification of the product.’”
If a party can show that a product, used in a way reasonably anticipated, could harm a product-user, the manufacturer may have a legal duty to design its product in a manner which would avoid such harm. As explained by the Fifth Circuit, a reasonably anticipated use is a “use or handling of a product that the product’s manufacturer should reasonably expect of an ordinary person in the same or similar circumstances.” If it can be shown that a product was misused and that misuse resulted in the damages claimed by the product-user, then that user cannot collect against the manufacturer for his or her damages.
In the Matthews case, the plaintiff had borrowed a Model 710 rifle from another individual. The manufacturer designed the rifle to be fired with a bolt-assembly pin in place. Warnings were included in the rifle manual stating that the rifle should not be fired without the required pin. According to the Fifth Circuit, the defendant rifle manufacturer had not received any reports, prior to this lawsuit being filed, of its Model 710 rifle being fired without the required bolt-assembly pin. The Fifth Circuit found that someone had removed the bolt-assembly pin, and when the bolt-assembly pin was removed from the rifle in question and was not reinstalled, the rifle’s bolt head did not lock with the rifle’s barrel when later used by the plaintiff. This resulted in an uncontained explosion which caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
In the proceedings below, the trial court had found that the plaintiff’s injuries were not caused because the pin was defective, but rather because it had been removed from the rifle. The trial court also determined that the pin had been manufactured according to the applicable specifications. Therefore, the main issue before the Fifth Circuit in Matthews was whether or not it was fair of the trial court to find that the plaintiff had fired the rifle after the bolt-assembly pin had been removed and not reinstalled, as opposed to the plaintiff simply firing the rifle. The Fifth Circuit focused on whether or not the plaintiff had used the rifle in a manner reasonably anticipated by the rifle manufacturer to determine if the rifle manufacturer had a duty to the injured plaintiff, in this case, to design its rifle in such a way as to prevent the harm caused. After reviewing the case, and determining that the pin was missing at the time the plaintiff fired the rifle, the Fifth Circuit agreed with the trial court’s finding that the defendant rifle manufacturer should not have expected that someone would fire its Model 710 rifle after its bolt-assembly pin had been removed and not reinstalled. The Fifth Circuit found that the pin could have been removed by the plaintiff or another individual.
As this case demonstrates, cases involving defective products hinge on the facts. Although the court found that the user in this case was the ultimate cause of the damages he suffered, there are many instances where products malfunction through no error on the part of the user.
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