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.
Evidently, the plaintiff was using the tool with a cut-off wheel attachment that was only rated for 19,000 RPM. Additionally, the plaintiff was not wearing safety goggles and did not install a safety guard on the tool prior to using it. As the plaintiff was using the tool, the cut-off wheel attachment broke off and struck the plaintiff in the face. The plaintiff ultimately lost his eye as a result.
The plaintiff filed a product liability lawsuit against the defendant manufacturer. In response the defendant filed a motion for summary judgement, arguing that the plaintiff’s misuse of the product was a complete defense to the case against the manufacturer. The trial court agreed, dismissing the plaintiff’s case. The plaintiff appealed.
The Appellate Decision
On appeal, the case was affirmed in favor of the defendant manufacturer. The court first noted that the plaintiff’s case was premised on the theory of negligence, rather than strict liability. It was understood that a misuse defense was a complete bar to recovery for strict-liability cases, but it had not been decided if misuse was also a complete defense in cases proceeding under a negligence theory.
The court concluded that a plaintiff’s misuse could be a complete defense to a product liability claim, if the defendant is able to prove the plaintiff’s misuse. Here, the court explained that the defendant established that the plaintiff misused the tool in “three distinct ways.” First, by using the tool without safety glasses. Second, by using a cut-off wheel attachment that was rated for only 19,000 RPM. And finally, but failing to install a safety guard prior to using the cut-off wheel attachment. The court held that the plaintiff was at least 51% at fault for his injuries and that the defendant manufacturer could not have foreseen that a user would misuse the tool in such a way. Thus, the court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case.
Have You Been Injured by a Dangerous Product?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured while using a dangerous or defective product, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a South Florida product liability claim. At the law firm of Friedman Rodman & Frank, we represent injury victims and their families in a wide range of claims, including Florida product liability claims. To learn more, call 877-448-8585 to schedule a free consultation today.
More Blog Posts:
Court Holds That Police Department May Be Liable for Officer’s Failure to Use Due Care While Responding to an Emergency, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published November 6, 2018.
Court Permits Premises Liability Case to Proceed After Applying the Res Ipsa Loquitor Doctrine, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published November 13, 2018.