Products Liability Law Daily Design defect claims against cart makers move forward
Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Design defect claims against cart makers move forward

By David Yucht, J.D.

Although it was not known which of two companies manufactured a cart that allegedly injured a delivery man, the man could sue both entities based on designer liability.

The federal district court in Arizona ruled that a delivery man injured at a Wal-Mart store by a cart designed by Wal-Mart with the assistance of two manufacturers sufficiently alleged that both makers were designers of the subject cart and, therefore, were subject to potential designer liability if the cart is proven to be defective. Arizona law does not require an entity to be the sole designer of a defective product in order to be held accountable based on designer liability. Consequently, the court denied the manufacturers’ motion for summary judgment (Neely v. National Cart Co., Inc., August 5, 2019, Campbell, D.).

The duties of a delivery man for a beverage distributor in Arizona involved placing bottled drinks onto a large cart, called the ST-Rocket Cart, to restock shelves around Wal-Mart stores. He was operating such a cart, loaded with hundreds of pounds of bottled drinks, at a Wal-Mart store when the cart collided into the back of his right heel and its unguarded, sharp steel caused a severe injury. This cart allegedly was designed by Wal-Mart in conjunction with two manufacturers, National Cart Co., Inc. and Win-Holt Equipment Corp. It was not known which of the two companies, National or Win-Holt, manufactured the subject cart. The delivery man sued Wal-Mart and the two manufacturers, asserting claims for strict liability product design and negligent product design. The two manufacturers moved for summary judgment.

Designer liability. The court refused to grant summary judgment for either manufacturer. The court noted that, under Arizona law, a product liability action is "any action brought against a manufacturer … of a product for damages for bodily injury…." Included in the definition of "manufacturer" is an "entity that designs … a product." The manufacturers contended that the delivery man’s design claims failed because he could not show that they were in a joint venture with Wal-Mart and had "equal right of control" over the design of the subject cart. They argued that they did not truly design the subject cart because Wal-Mart had final decision-making authority. The court, however, noted that the law did not require them to be sole designers or to have control over the ultimate design to be liable. There was testimony that changes to the cart design from an earlier design, including additional safety features, were the result of collaboration among Wal-Mart, National, and Win-Holt. Win-Holt suggested a safety latch to Wal-Mart, and this was incorporated into the design. National then reviewed the safety latch suggestion and offered a different version of the same concept. This evidence was sufficient to show that both manufacturers could be found liable as designers of the subject cart, if the product is proven to be defective.

The case is No. CV17-8235-PTC-DGC.

Attorneys: John F. Hedrich (Law Offices of John F. Hedrich) for Thomas Neely. Brandi Christine Blair (Jones Skelton & Hochuli Plc) for National Cart Co. Inc. Jeffrey Lincoln Smith (Sanders & Parks PC) for Win-Holt Equipment Corp. Craig W. Phillips (Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie LLP) for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Companies: National Cart Co. Inc.; Win-Holt Equipment Corp.; Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

MainStory: TopStory DesignManufacturingNews SCLIssuesNews IndustrialCommercialEquipNews ArizonaNews

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