By David Yucht, J.D.
An injured consumer cannot proceed with failure to warn claims against a miter saw manufacturer or the product’s seller, Home Depot, because he read the saw’s instruction manual warnings but did not follow them.
A federal court in Florida denied summary judgment favoring a power tool manufacturer on a consumer’s strict liability design and manufacturing defect claims because the consumer was using its product for its intended purpose when he was injured. However, the court granted the manufacturer’s summary judgment motion as it related to the consumer’s failure to warn claims because the consumer had ignored the warnings provided with the product. The court also granted in part and denied in part the retailer’s motion for summary judgment on warranty claims. Motions to exclude expert testimony were denied (Landi v. Home Depot USA, Inc., September 24, 2019, Chappell, S.).
A general contractor purchased a miter saw, manufactured by Makita USA, Inc., from a Home Depot store in Florida. He claimed to have told a store employee that he was looking for a saw to cut molding. The employee pointed him to a specific saw, which he purchased. When he got home and opened the box, the saw appeared to be new, but did not include upper fences and a vertical vise. The saw was packaged with an instruction manual, which the consumer read and understood. The manual warned not to "perform any operation freehand" and not to "use your hand to secure the workpiece." It instructed the user to "ALWAYS" use a vise to secure workpieces. The consumer used the saw to cut a section of molding, securing the molding by hand. While the blade was spinning, the molding was pulled to the right together with the consumer’s arm which was cut by the blade. He sued the manufacturer and retailer for strict liability and negligence and failure to warn. The manufacturer and retailer moved to exclude the testimony of the consumer’s expert witness and for summary judgment.
Expert testimony. The court refused to exclude the testimony of the consumer’s expert. The expert provided a list of 21 opinions that he planned to express at trial, including foreseeable ways users will operate and alter the saw, dangerous defects in the saw’s design, feasible alternative designs, steps the manufacturer could have taken to avoid the design defects, and how the defects had caused the consumer’s injury. First, the court found that the witness was qualified to give an expert opinion based on his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, his 48 years of work in the field, his authorship of more than 20 publications, his filing over 100 patents (including one for a miter saw blade guard), and his testimony in more than 200 trials. The court also found that the expert’s opinion was sufficiently reliable and helpful, and that his report had been disclosed in a timely manner.
Strict liability—defective manufacture and design. The court rejected the manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment on the consumer’s design and manufacturing defect claims. The manufacturer argued that it could not be found liable for a product defect because the consumer had been holding the workpiece with his hand while operating the saw, which was contrary to warnings in the instruction manual. The court noted that under Florida law, strict liability only applies to a manufacturer if the product was "used for the purpose intended." Here, the court found that the consumer had been using the saw for its intended purpose when he was injured. The manufacturer could have avoided strict liability if its products were used for an unintended purpose, not in an unintended manner. However, because the consumer here had used the saw for its intended purpose when he was injured, the manufacturer was not entitled to summary judgment on the consumer’s design and manufacturing defect claims.
Negligence. The court refused to grant summary judgment on the manufacturer’s negligent design and manufacturing claim, but granted Home Depot’s motion to dismiss claims against it based on this theory. The manufacturer raised the consumer’s misuse of the saw as a complete defense to his negligent manufacturing and design claims. However, in Florida, "product misuse is not an absolute bar" to a products liability negligence claim. When there is evidence of more than one proximate cause of an injury, the issue must be left for the jury. The consumer here presented evidence of a proximate cause other than product misuse. His expert opined that a design defect had caused the blade guard to become jammed in the "partial down position," which left the blade exposed when the consumer’s arm was pulled into it. These claims against Home Depot were dismissed because Home Depot did not manufacture or design the saw. The court also found that there was no basis to hold Home Depot liable for negligent assembly because the retailer had no obligation to assemble the saw, which had been fully assembled by the manufacturer.
Failure to warn. The court ruled that the manufacturer and the retailer were entitled to summary judgment on the consumer’s failure-to-warn claims. The companies argued that there was an inadequate showing of failure to warn because the consumer had read and understood the warnings included with the saw but had ignored them; and the dangers inherent in using the saw were open and obvious. Here, the court agreed that the consumer could not establish that inadequate warnings caused his injury because he had read the warnings in the instruction manual but did not follow them.
Warranties. Finally, while the court declined to dismiss the consumer’s breach of implied warranty of merchantability claim, it granted summary judgment favoring Home Depot on the consumer’s claim for breach of implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. Home Depot argued that the merchantability claim should be dismissed because the consumer had failed to provide reasonable notice of the issue. The court was convinced by the consumer’s argument that he did not realize there was a merchantability issue until he was injured. Concerning the particular purpose claim, the court found that cutting molding was a general purpose and not a particular purpose for this saw.
The case is No. 2:17-cv-00701-SPC-MRM.
Attorneys: Andrew Allen Norden (Osborne & Associates Law Firm P.A.) for John Landi and Lori Landi. Frank D. Hosley (Bowman and Brooke, LLP) for Home Depot USA, Inc., Makita USA, Inc. and Makita Corp.
Companies: Home Depot USA, Inc.; Makita USA, Inc.; Makita Corp.
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