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Linegar v. Armour of America

    Brief Fact Summary. Linegar was shot and killed while wearing a bulletproof vest manufactured by Armour of America (Defendant). The bullets shot from the gun, struck Plaintiff in parts of the body not covered by the vest.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The article sold must be dangerous to an extent beyond that, which would be contemplated by the ordinary consumer who purchases it, and who has the ordinary knowledge common of the community as to its characteristics.

    Facts. Linegar was on a routine traffic stop, when David Tate shot and killed him. Plaintiff was wearing a bulletproof vest designed and manufactured by Defendant and purchased by the highway patrol. None of the shots that hit the vest penetrated the vest or caused Linegar injury. Plaintiff’s death resulted from gunshots that struck parts of his body not protected by the vest. Defendant’s vest did not meet at the side of Linegar’s body, leaving an area along the side of his body exposed. The bullet that proved fatal to Linegar, entered his body from the opening described. Linegar’s widow and children (Plaintiffs) sued under products liability. The jury returned a verdict for Plaintiffs. Defendant appealed.

    Issue. Is Defendant liable to Plaintiffs for an obvious feature on a bulletproof vest manufactured by Defendant and worn by Plaintiff?

    Held. No. Judgment reversed.
    * To recover under a theory of strict liability in tort for defective design, a party must prove the following elements: (1) the defendant sold the product in the course of its business; (2) the product was then in a defective condition, unreasonably dangerous when put to a reasonably anticipated use; (3) the product was used in a manner reasonably anticipated; and (4) the plaintiff was damaged as a direct result of such defective condition as existed when the product was sold. In this case the court concluded that the product was not defective or unreasonably dangerous as is required in the second element of defective design.
    * Whether a product is unreasonably dangerous is largely a matter of common sense. It defies logic, however, to suggest that Defendant reasonably should have anticipated that anyone would wear its vest for protection of areas of the body that the vest obviously did not cover.
    * The court has also adopted the “consumer expectation” test for unreasonably dangerous products: “[t]he article sold must be dangerous to an extent beyond that which would be contemplated by the ordinary consumer who purchases it, with the ordinary knowledge common to the community as to is characteristics.”
    * In this case, the court had no difficult in concluding as a matter of law that the vest was neither defective nor unreasonably dangerous. The vest preformed exactly as expected and stopped all bullets that hit it.
    * The highway patrol could have chosen to buy, and Defendant could have chosen to sell, a vest with more coverage. But it is not the job of the courts to impose set specifications on what parts of the body a bulletproof vest must cover.

    Discussion. This case sets out the elements of defective design and focuses in on the requirement of “unreasonably dangerous.” In this case, the court held that the vest was not unreasonably dangerous because it did everything that would be reasonably expected of it. The court did not want to impose standards or guidelines in designing bulletproof vests, because manufactures are supposed to give consumers choices and trade-offs. The vest in this case, was more flexible and allowed for better heat dissipation than a full vest. A less protective but more mobile vest was not, as a matter of law, unreasonably dangerous.



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