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February 7, 2008

Third Circuit Certifies Strict Liability Bystander Recovery Case to Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Berrier v. Simplicity Manufacturing, Inc., No: 05-3621 (3d Cir. Jan. 17, 2008), arose out of injuries sustained by a four-year-old Ashley Berrier when her grandfather inadvertently backed over her foot while mowing his lawn with a riding mower manufactured by the defendant.  Her foot was ultimately amputated as a result of the accident.  Her parents sued Simplicity on their own behalf and as her parents and guardians, alleging strict liability and negligence claims based design defect and inadequate warning theories.   The case was filed in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas and removed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  Simplicity moved for summary judgment on both claims.  In granting the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the trial court in the case expressed “grave doubts as to the logic of preventing an innocent bystander from recovering for injuries caused by an allegedly defective product, particularly when the American Law Institute, through the Restatement (Third) of Torts:  Product liability, has retreated from the very genesis of the ‘intended user’ doctrine.”   The court nontheless felt constrained to follow Pennsylvania law in Phillips v. Cricket Lighters, 841 A.2d 1000 (Pa. 2003) (holding that a child who started a house fire with a butane lighter was not an intended user), which limits liability under a strict liability theory to intended users of a product.  Berrier v. Simplicity Corp., 413 F.Supp.2d 431, 432 (E.D. Pa. 2005).

In its review of Pennsylvania law the Third circuit was “persuaded that the proper scope of strict liability remains unresolved where a bystander, who is neither a ‘user’ nor a ‘consumer’ of an allegedly defective product, is injured when that product is being used as intended.”   The court certified the following question to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court:

Whether, under Pennsylvania law a plaintiff minor child may pursue a strict liability claim for injuries caused by a riding lawnmower, where that child is neither an intended user nor consumer of the mower.    See Pennsylvania Department of General Services v. United States mineral Products Co., 899 A.2d 590 (Pa. 2006); Phillips v. Cricket Lighters, 841 A.2d 1000 (Pa. 2003); Riley v. Warren Manufacturing, 688 A.2d 221 (Pa. Super. 1997).

MKS

February 7, 2008 | Permalink

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