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From Products Liability Law Daily, April 7, 2015

Rejection of Restatement (Third) requires remand of tool and die worker’s design defect claims

By Pamela C. Maloney, J.D.

In light of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s rejection of the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability in favor of retaining the Restatement (Second) of Torts as the governing law in the state, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit vacated summary judgment in favor of the manufacturer of an industrial lift table and remanded the case for further proceedings (DeJesus v. Knight Industries & Assoc., Inc., April 6, 2015, En banc).

Background. Harold DeJesus, a tool and die maker who worked for a Harley Davidson factory, was standing with his back to a lift table holding motorcycle clutches when an employee attempted to raise the lift table. A clutch on the table knocked over a chain rack holding several motorcycle chains, and the rack fell onto DeJesus’ leg. DeJesus was hospitalized for 19 days, during which time a metal rod was inserted into his leg, after which he went into rehabilitation for six months. DeJesus alleged that he cannot walk for more than ten minutes at a time, he has experienced PTSD symptoms, and his doctor told him that he might experience pain for the rest of his life. DeJesus brought strict liability and negligence claims based on defective design against Knight Industries & Associates, Inc., the manufacturer of the lift table. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted summary judgment for the manufacturer based on its finding that DeJesus produced no evidence that the addition of audio or visual warnings would constitute a reasonable alternative design as required under the Restatement (Third) of Torts.

Rejection of Restatement (Third). In Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., 64 A.3d 626 (Pa. 2013), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the Restatement (Second) was to be applied in products liability cases and that the Restatement (Third) would not be adopted as the law in Pennsylvania. At the same time, the state high court overruled the long-standing method of applying the Restatement (Second) outlined in Azzarello v. Black Brothers, 391 A.2d 1020 (Pa. 1978), which had required Pennsylvania juries to be instructed that in cases of a supplier’s strict liability in tort, “the product must … be provided with every element necessary to make it safe for its intended use”; and that while a manufacturer of a product is not an insurer of a product’s safety, it may be a guarantor of the product’s safety.

Effect on DeJesus decision. In opposing the manufacturer’s summary judgment motion, the tool and tie worker argued that the Restatement (Second) should be applied to his products liability claims. After summary judgment was granted, the worker properly preserved his rights with respect to the issue resolved byTincher by moving for a stay of appeal pending resolution in that case. Because the law as decided by the highest court of the state had changed while the case was on appeal, and the worker had preserved his rights with respect to those issues, the Third Circuit, in a non-precedential decision, vacated the summary judgment for the manufacturer and remanded the case for further proceedings in light of Tincher.

The case is No. 13-3570.

Attorneys: Stephen R. Kurens (Law Office of Stephen R. Kurens) for Harold DeJesus. Anthony R. Sherr (Mayers, Mennies & Sherr) for Knight Industries & Associates, Inc. Brian J. Madden (Donnelly & Associates) for Engman-Taylor Company, Inc. James L. Barlow (Law Offices of James L. Barlow) for Gemini Products, Inc.

Companies: Knight Industries & Associates, Inc.; Engman-Taylor Company, Inc.; Gemini Products, Inc.

MainStory: TopStory DesignManufacturingNews ExpertEvidenceNews IndustrialCommercialEquipNews DelawareNews NewJerseyNews PennsylvaniaNews VirginIslandsNews

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