The plaintiff, a heavier woman, got into a car accident in her Ford Explorer. Upon impact, her seat collapsed backwards, and she fractured her spine, rendering her a paraplegic. There was no warning from the manufacturer that the seat might collapse in this manner.
Strict liability for failure to warn can still be applied even if the product in question was not defective. If the product was rendered unreasonably dangerous by characteristics of its users, an adequate warning is necessary.
In April 2005, the plaintiff purchased a 2002 Ford Explorer. On November 1, 2005, the plaintiff, who was 6 feet tall and 300 pounds at the time, got into a car accident in the Explorer. She stopped to make a left turn and was hit from behind by another vehicle. Upon impact, the driver’s seat collapsed backwards, and her head and shoulders hit the back seat, fracturing her T9 vertebra and rendering her a paraplegic. The plaintiff claimed that, due to her size, she paid close attention to weight warnings when she purchased products and that there was no warning that the seats might collapse upon impact in the Ford Explorer.
Did the trial court err in directing a verdict on the plaintiff’s failure to warn claims?
Yes. The trial court judgement is reversed and the case remanded.
Justice William Ray Price Jr.
Chief Justice Price believes that the plaintiff needed to offer some evidence that an adequate warning would have prevented the danger, as well as the prospective wording of a warning. The warning here is so hypothetical that it poses problems in trying to create wording, so the plaintiff should have no submissible case.
To make a case of strict liability for failure to warn, one must show that the defendant sold the product in question in the course of its business, that the product was unreasonably dangerous at the time of sale when used as anticipated, that the defendant did not give adequate warning of the danger, that the product was used in an anticipated manner, and that the plaintiff was damaged as a direct result of the product being sold without adequate warning. There is no dispute that the defendant sold the product, that it was used in an anticipated manner by the plaintiff, or that there were no warnings regarding the seats potential to collapse. In regards to the unreasonable danger, that danger may arise not from the product itself, but from failing to allow users to make an informed choice with adequate warnings. While the seats in the Explorer themselves may not have been defective, they posed an unreasonable danger to the plaintiff due to her size, and she was completely unaware of that danger due to the defendant’s failure to warn. Most jurisdictions do not force the plaintiff to propose the wording of an adequate warning in cases where no warning was defective or absent.