Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether a plaintiff’s case against a defendant manufacturer is subject to dismissal at the summary judgment stage if the defendant manufacturer can establish that the plaintiff misused the product at issue. Ultimately, the court concluded that a plaintiff’s misuse of a product can be a complete defense to a product liability lawsuit if the defendant proves the plaintiff’s misuse.
The case is important to Florida product liability plaintiffs because it illustrates the misuse defense, which may act as a complete bar to recover in Florida product liability lawsuits proceeding under a strict liability theory. However, Florida courts have held that a plaintiff’s misuse of a product is not a complete defense in a negligence-based product liability claim, and that the plaintiff’s misuse cannot be used to bar recovery in these cases. Instead, a plaintiff’s misuse of a product can be used to reduce a plaintiff’s damages award.
According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was seriously injured while using an air-powered tool that was made by the defendant manufacturer. The tool contained an instruction manual, warning users should always wear safety goggles, should only use the tool with its cut-off wheel attachment when a safety guard is installed on the tool, and that only attachments rated for speeds up over 25,000 revolutions per minute (RPM) should be used. When the plaintiff purchased the tool, it did not come with a safety guard and the instruction manual did not mention where a user could obtain a safety guard.