December 16, 2021
Renzulli Law Firm represented an industry leading manufacturer of safety equipment in a lawsuit pending in federal court in Indiana. Plaintiff claimed that one of defendant’s products, a marine flare launcher, caused her serious injuries due to an alleged defect in design. Plaintiff was using the product in her home for self-defense purposes, and had no intention of using it in a marine setting for signaling purposes. Plaintiff claimed that the flare launcher discharged as a result of a “drop fire,” causing her “severe physical and mental anguish” and “permanent impairment of the use and function of her affected leg.”
Through a detailed investigation and the retention of qualified and skilled experts on behalf of the manufacturer, Renzulli Law Firm established that the flare launcher was not susceptible to discharge when dropped as claimed by plaintiff, met Coast Guard standards, and was widely respected in the boating community as a safe and quality marine safety device.
Misuse was a primary defense in the case. Pursuant to the Indiana Products Liability Act, misuse is a complete bar to recovery, and not solely an issue of comparative fault for a jury to decide. Through the use of aggressive and tactical deposition questioning of the plaintiff and her liability expert, Renzulli Law Firm achieved a complete dismissal of all claims at the summary judgment stage of the case.
The federal court held that while “misuse is typically a question of fact for a jury to decide . . . summary judgment is appropriate when the undisputed evidence proves that the plaintiff misused the product in an unforeseeable matter.” The court went on to find that plaintiff admitted to reading and understanding the instructions and warnings that accompanied the product, that she knew she was employing the flare launcher in a manner not contemplated by the instructions, and that this “misuse” was the cause of her injuries. Once the court found she was misusing the product, it then turned to the second prong of the analysis – was this misuse reasonably foreseeable by the manufacturer. The court held that it “is not reasonably expected for an ordinary prudent consumer to disregard the clear instructions and purpose” of the product and use it “for a wholly different function” than contemplated by the manufacturer. The court found, as a matter of law, that plaintiff’s intended use of the flare launcher for self-defense in her home was not a reasonably foreseeable use of the product. Therefore, summary judgment dismissing the case against the manufacturer was granted.
If you have any questions concerning the defense of cases against product manufacturers and sellers for claims arising from the misuse of those products, please contact John F. Renzulli or Christopher Renzulli.