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From Products Liability Law Daily, December 2, 2013

Inadequate warning claim undermined by admission that warning was not read

By Leah S. Poniatowski, J.D.

Warnings on a baby seat adequately warned consumers of the dangers of placing the seat on an elevated surface, and the parents’ failure to read those warnings negated any claim they may have had that the warnings were inadequate, a federal district court in Texas ruled. However, the parents of a child injured when the seat fell from a table provided sufficient evidence that the retail seller of the seat had actual knowledge of the seat’s alleged design defect and, therefore, there was a question of fact as to the retailer’s liability for defects in the design of the seat (Blythe v. Bumbo International Trust, November 26, 2013, Costa, G.).

Background. Kody and Erica Blythe received the Bumbo baby chair as a baby shower gift in November 2009. Their eight-month old daughter was injured when she fell, with the seat, off of the Blythe’s kitchen table, where she had been placed by her mother. In the fall, she sustained an inverted skull fracture and was released from the hospital the next day. The Blythes filed a products liability lawsuit against Bumbo International Trust, the seat’s manufacturer, claiming that the seat was defectively designed because it lacked a restraining device and that it was defectively marketed because it failed to adequately warn against using the seat on elevated surfaces. The Blythes also filed suit against Target International Corporation for allegedly selling a product with a known defect.

Marketing defect. The court concluded that because the Blythes did not read any of the warnings provided by the manufacturer, they could not establish the causation element of their products liability claim. Under Texas law, a successful marketing defect claim requires proof of five elements, one of which is that the failure to warn constituted a causative nexus in the product user’s injury. As an initial matter, the court found that the warning not to place the baby seat on an elevated surface, which was printed on the box, on the seat itself, and on the accompanying leaflet, was unambiguous and conspicuous.

The court found that the reasoning in a similar—although more tragic—Texas products liability case applied. The court in that case held that an admission by the consumer that had they read the warnings, they would have heeded the warning, revealed the adequacy of the existing warning and, thus, a manufacturer’s failure to provide a better warning could not have been a factor in causing the injury. In this case, the mother acknowledged that she would not have used the seat on a raised surface had she read the warnings. Accordingly, the parents’ contention that they were entitled to a presumption that they would have followed the warnings had they been adequate failed because there could be no presumption when the consumer would not have been injured had he read the warning. Therefore, the manufacturer was granted summary judgment on the marketing defect claim.

Seller’s actual knowledge. The court held that the Blythes presented sufficient evidence that Target had actual knowledge of a defect when it supplied the baby seat to apply an exception to the Texas statute that protects nonmanufacturing sellers from product liability claims. Texas case law interpreting that statute set a high bar of proof—i.e., it must be shown that the seller received publicly available knowledge about an alleged defect, and that the knowledge acquired by the seller must relate to the defect.

The parents proffered evidence that Target had documented numerous customer complaints about children falling from the seats because they were not properly restrained, including a report that one child suffered a hematoma and skull fracture from a fall. Additionally, there was evidence that Target had responded to several lawsuits alleging that the seat was unsafe because of the lack of a restraining device, and that the seller knew about a testing agency’s finding that it was unsafe as a reclining chair. The court found that this information was sufficient for a jury to conclude that the seller had actual knowledge of the alleged defect. Therefore, Target’s motion for summary judgment on the “actual knowledge” requirement was denied with regard to the design defect claim.

The case number is 6:12-CV-36.

Attorneys: Martin E. Rose (Rose Walker LLP) for Erica Blythe. John Gregory Hergens Davis (Brown Sims PC) for Bumbo International Trust f/k/a Jonibach Management Trust. Tarush R. Anand (Brown Sims PC) for Target Corporation.

Companies: Target International Corporation; Jonibach Management Trust; Bumbo International Trust

MainStory: TopStory DesignManufacturingNews WarningsNews BabyProductsNews TexasNews

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