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From Products Liability Law Daily, March 28, 2014

Purchaser of air compressor fails to prove packaging was defective when it left manufacturer’s control

By Pamela C. Maloney, J.D.

A consumer who purchased an air compressor from a big box hardware store failed to provide any evidence that the safety strap around the box contained a design defect rendering it unreasonably dangerous, a Texas court of appeals ruled, granting the manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment.  The court also granted summary judgment on the consumer’s negligence claim because it was subsumed by the strict products liability claim (Carpenter v. Campbell Hausfeld Co., March 27, Keyes, E.).

Background. Dwayne Carpenter was attempting to load a 1.2 HP 20-Gallon 125 PSI Electric Air Compressor manufactured by Campbell Hausfeld into his shopping cart at a Lowe’s store when a strap around the compressor box unexpectedly broke, causing the box to fall on him, knocking him to the floor. Carpenter injured his left hip, leg, shoulder, and arm and sought medical treatment for these injuries. He filed a strict products liability claim against Campbell Hausfeld, alleging that the strap was defectively designed. After Campbell Hausfeld moved for summary judgment, Carpenter filed an amended complaint to add a negligence claim against the company. The trial court granted summary judgment on all claims and Carpenter appealed.

Products liability design defect claim. In upholding the trial court’s decision on the strict products liability claim, the appellate court noted that the gravamen of Carpenter’s complaint was that the air compressor at issue was defectively designed because it only one strap securing the box. Thus, he only complained about the packaging of the air compressor, not that a component of the compressor was defective and caused his injury. In order to establish a design defect claim, Carpenter was required to prove that the compressor box was defective when it left the hands of the manufacturer. However, there was no evidence showing: (1) the condition of the compressor box at the time that it left the Campbell Hausfeld facility; (2) that Campbell Hausfeld, in general, packaged its air compressors with only one strap, as opposed to two; or (3) that the box he was loading into the shopping cart had only one strap securing it when it left Campbell Hausfeld’s facility. In addition, Carpenter admitted that other Campbell Hausfeld compressors at the Lowe’s store were secured by two straps, making it likely that one strap had been inadvertently removed either during transit to the store or after arrival when it was being displayed for purchase. Furthermore, Campbell Hausfeld sold its air compressor through a third party, several individuals necessarily came into contact with the compressor and its packaging both during transit and at the store. Thus, there was no evidence to establish that the compressor was defective when it left Campbell Hausfeld’s facility.

The court went on to note that there was no evidence that Campbell Hausfeld did not employ the “safer alternative design” of using two straps to secure its air compressor boxes and did not employ that design alternative on the box in questions.

Expert testimony. The court rejected Carpenter’s second argument that the trial court’s decision imposed a requirement of expert testimony in all products liability cases in order to survive summary judgment. Carpenter based his claim on the assumption that the trial court granted summary judgment because he had only presented law testimony and that the trial court would have required expect testimony to raise a fact issue on each element of his products liability claim. According to the appellate court, the trial court could have determined, as it had done, that Carpenter present no evidence—not even lay testimony—on whether the air compressor left Campbell Hauser in a defective condition or that a safer alternative design existed but was not used in this instance.

Negligence claim. Although the court acknowledged that a trial court could not grant summary judgment as to new theories of liability raised after a motion for summary judgment had been filed, the court cited an exception for a new claim that merely “reiterates the same essential elements in another fashion.” The only act of negligence that Carpenter asserted in the amended petition was that Campbell Hausfeld defectively designed the air compressor packaging, thus rendering the compressor unreasonably dangerous when sold. The court concluded that Carpenter’s negligence theory was “encompassed and subsumed” in his strict products liability theory, and, therefore, the trial court properly granted summary judgment on the negligence claim.

The case number is 01-13-0075-CV.

Attorneys: Jack Ivey (Ivey Law Firm, PC) for Dawyne Carpenter. Robert G Smith (Melvin & Melvin, PLLC) for Campbell Hausfeld Co. and Campbell Hausfeld/Scott Fetzer Company Inc.

Companies: Campbell Hausfeld Co; Campbell Hausfeld/Scott Fetzer Company Inc.

MainStory: TopStory DesignManufacturingNews ExpertEvidenceNews IndustrialCommercialEquipNews TexasNews

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