Plaintiff’s Product Liability Case Allowed to Proceed Under Strict Liability Theory

Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a product liability case filed by a man who was injured when the solution he was using to clean his basement floor erupted into flames. In the case, Suarez v. W.M. Barr & Company, the plaintiff brought both a failure-to-warn claim as well as a general negligence claim. The court affirmed the dismissal of the failure-to-warn claim but held that there was an issue of triable fact regarding the negligence claim.

BasementThe Facts of the Case

Suarez purchased a gallon of the defendant’s Goof Off product to clean his basement floors. Suarez read the warnings on the product’s packaging and accordingly opened doors and windows in the basement to ventilate the area. While following the packaging’s instructions, the product caught fire, severely burning Suarez. Suarez then filed a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of Goof Off. Specifically, he claimed that the warning on the product’s packaging was inadequate and also that the product was unreasonably dangerous.

Suarez presented experts who testified that the active ingredient in Goof Off, acetone, could have been agitated, causing the fire. However, the trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on both claims, and Suarez appealed to a higher court.

On Appeal, the Negligence Claim is Allowed to Proceed

The appellate court initially noted that the lower court was proper in holding that the warning contained on the product’s packaging was sufficient as a matter of law and that the claim was properly dismissed. However, the court went on to disagree with the lower court as to the negligence claim.

The court explained that in a product liability claim, the plaintiff must prove three elements:

  • The product contained an unreasonably dangerous condition;
  • The dangerous condition was present when the product left the defendant’s control; and
  • The condition caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

The court explained that this case boiled down to whether the first requirement was met. The court determined that it was. Specifically, the court explained that there are two ways a plaintiff can prove that a product is unreasonably dangerous:  the consumer-expectation test and the risk-utility test. Here, the court held that both tests were met. Regarding the consumer-expectation test, the court held that consumers could reasonably expect that the product would not explode when using it for its intended purpose. As for the risk-utility test, the court held that the risks of manufacturing the product as designed outweighed the benefits. As a result of the recent ruling, Suarez’s case will be permitted to proceed toward trial on the strict liability claim.

Have You Been Injured by a Dangerous Product in the Washington, D.C. Area?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured by an unreasonably dangerous product, you may be entitled to monetary compensation from the product’s manufacturer or any other party in the chain of distribution. To learn more about product liability cases in the Washington, D.C. area, call 410-654-3600 to set up a free consultation with a dedicated personal injury attorney. Calling is free, and we will not bill you for our time unless we are able to help you obtain the compensation you deserve.

More Blog Posts:

Court Holds Plaintiff Does Not Need to Release Unused Expert Witness’ Report, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, November 15, 2016

Plaintiff’s Premises Liability Case Against Municipality Dismissed Due to Late Filing, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, December 2, 2016

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