The impact of United States Product Liability Law on German parts and equipment
Germany exports many different types of parts and equipment to the United States totaling over $24 billion dollars per year, according to www.worldsrichestcountries.com. When such products contain defects, the manufacturer, distributor and even the retailer could face a products liability claim. Once a claim is made, it is important for the manufacturer to retain counsel and to assert certain defenses to protect itself from liability and damages. A manufacturer should retain experienced counsel to help defend it properly.
Many cases have been brought throughout the United States seeking damages for injuries allegedly caused by “defective” unsafe parts or products. An example of a target of such lawsuits is the Robert Bosch Tool Corporation (Bosch) which is a subsidiary of the Robert Bosch GmbH in Germany. Robert Bosch GmbH is a large German company with a heavy presence in the United States. Over the years Bosch has had to defend itself against various claims using specific affirmative defenses and trial techniques available in a products liability claim.
In Campbell v. Robert Bosch Power Tool Corp., Plaintiff Campbell was injured when the Bosch disc he attached to his powered sanding and grinding tool “fractured into several pieces, one which struck him in the eye.” 795 F.Supp. 1093 (M.D. Ala., 1992). This disc bore a warning label which instructed users to “use guards and goggles” while using the disc. Id. Prior to using the disc, Campbell had “removed the wheel guard with which the tool was equipped, and he was not wearing eye protection at the time of his injury.” Id. Campbell charged Bosch with failure to warn, “claiming that the disc’s label did not provide adequate warning of the dangers of not using guards or goggles while operating the sanding and grinding tool.” Id. Bosch defended this failure to warn claim by asserting several common products liability defenses, “two of which are the affirmative defenses of product misuse and assumption of the risk.” Id. Campbell then moved for Summary Judgment as to these two affirmative defenses. Placing the burden of proof upon Bosch to show the court that there was a “genuine issue of material fact” and the motion should be denied. Id.
In order for Campbell to succeed he first had to show that “Bosch was under a duty to warn him to use eye protection and a guard, the warning Bosch provided was inadequate and the breach proximately caused Campbell’s injuries.” Id. Additionally, Campbell had to show that: “Bosch placed the disc on the market; the disc was substantially unaltered when Mr. Campbell used it, the disc was imminently dangerous when put to its intended or customary purpose, and Bosch knew or should have known that the product could create a danger when used in its intended or customary manner.” Id. Bosch then asserted the affirmative defenses of misuse of the product and the assumption of risk.
The laws in Alabama consider the defense of product misuse as a part of contributory negligence. So the Court had to determine whether Campbell was negligent in using the product; and if Campbell was negligent in causing the accident when the product was being used. The Court here did not accept Bosch’s defense of misuse for two reasons. First, Bosch admitted that “it foresaw that consumers might use its product without guards and goggles.” Id. This is why the disc came with a warning label on it. Bosch also failed to show that Campbell was negligent in using the product. Instead Bosch was asserting that Campbell’s failure to use the product with guards and goggles was negligent operation of the tool because he ignored the warning label on the disc. So Bosch’s argument was predicated on the warning label itself but failed to show that the warning label was adequate as a matter of law. So the Court granted the Summary Judgment in favor of Campbell for this defense.
The Court found the Assumption of Risk defense to be more persuasive. Bosch offered evidence showing that Campbell had “extensive experience and training with power tools” like the one he was using the day of his injury. Id. It further showed that Campbell was aware of the risk of an eye injury and in fact had “sustained four eye injuries prior to the date of the accident in question.” Id. Bosch still had to show the Court that Campbell “actually appreciated the specific danger which caused his injuries.” Id. Campbell admitted he owned a Dremel Moto-Tool as well as reading the owner’s manual that came with it. Id. The Court found that the “owner’s manual to the Dremel Moto-Tool warned specifically that cutoff wheels “usually” break when they grab. Id.
The Court found that this tool was similar to the tool Mr. Campbell was using with the Bosch disc. Therefore “the Court [could] not rule out the possibility that these tools are relatively similar, and knowledge of the specific dangerous propensities of one tool could translate into specific knowledge regarding the other.” Id. Therefore the Court denied Summary Judgment for this defense.
This case is one example of why it is important to retain a firm that is knowledgeable about products liability law and can help ensure German manufacturers have solid defenses under the products liability laws applicable to the jurisdiction where the case is pending. From the case above it is clear that manufacturers of parts need to be aware of how their products are being used so the warning labels are sufficient as a matter of law. If the part is being used on or with another tool or machine the manufacturer should investigate the warning labels of that tool or machine to prevent them from further liability. UTFPA can help assist a manufacture in these product liability situations.
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