NY High Court: Danger May Be Obvious, But That Doesn't Mean the Product Isn't Defective
In a products liability decision that was handed down yesterday, May 10, 2011, New York State's highest court weighed in on an important question: if a product is clearly dangerous, is that alone enough to warrant dismissing a plaintiff's case that claims the product was defectively designed?
In short, and albeit for different reasons, the court was unanimous in saying no, that is not enough - at least not before trial.
In reversing both the trial and lower appellate courts' rulings dismissing the case on summary judgment, the Court of Appeals stated as follows:
"Our law in this area is well established. A defectively designed product is one which, at the time it leaves the seller's hands, is in a condition not reasonably contemplated by the ultimate consumer and is unreasonably dangerous for its intended use" (Voss v. Black & Decker Mfg. Co., 59 NY2d 102, 107  [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]). If the "utility" of a product "does not outweigh the danger inherent in its introduction into the stream of commerce," then the product is defectively designed."
The Court then noted that the defendants' submissions were insufficient to warrant summary judgment because "Defendants focus on plaintiff's mishandling of the product and asserted deficiencies in his expert's affidavit, but, as with any motion for summary judgment, defendants must first show an entitlement to judgment as a matter of law."
To that end, the Court further set forth the burden of proof that a defendant must satisfy before being entitled to summary judgment in a defective design case:
"We conclude, in accordance with settled summary judgment and products liability principles, that a defendant moving for summary judgment in a defective design case must do more than state, in categorical language in an attorney's affirmation, that its product is inherently dangerous and that its dangers are well known. Rather, to be entitled to summary judgment in such a case, a defendant must demonstrate that its product is reasonably safe for its intended use; that is, the utility of the product outweighs its inherent danger."