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Demara v. The Raymond Corp. - 13 Cal. App. 5th 545, 221 Cal. Rptr. 3d 102 (2017)

Rule:

Depending on the facts of a given case, a claim based on an alleged design defect can be proven by a plaintiff under the consumer expectation test, where the plaintiff proves that the product failed to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect when used in an intended or reasonably foreseeable manner; additionally, such a claim can be defeated by a defendant under the risk-benefit test (where, after the plaintiff presents a prima facie case that a product's design caused damages, the defendant proves that on balance, the benefits of the challenged design outweigh the risk of danger inherent in such design).

Facts:

While walking through the warehouse of his employer, plaintiff Kawika Demara's foot was crushed when it was run over by the drive wheel of forklift manufactured by defendant Raymond Corporation ("Raymond"). The incident occurred as the forklift driver was backing up, changing direction and turning to the left. Demara did not see the forklift or its warning light. As a result of the injury, Demara had numerous surgeries on his foot and remained permanently disabled and in pain. Demara, joined by his wife, Sandra Demara, filed a products liability action against Raymond in California state court, alleging strict liability based on claims for defects in the manufacture, design and warnings, and negligence. Mrs. Demara filed a claim for loss of consortium. Raymond filed a motion for summary judgment, or, alternatively, for summary adjudication of claims. The trial court granted, holding, inter alia, that the Demaras did not establish a triable issue of material fact as to causation, and the "consumer expectation test" did not apply as a matter of law. The Demaras appealed.

Issue:

(1) Did the summary judgment burden as to causation shift to Mr. Demara? (2) Was the consumer expectation test applicable the in the Demaras products liability action?

Answer:

(1) No; (2) Yes.

Conclusion:

The court of appeal reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the matter to the trial court with instructions to enter an order denying Raymond's motion for summary judgment, denying Raymond's motion for summary adjudication of the Demaras' claims for negligence and for defective design, and granting Raymond's  motion for summary adjudication of the Demaras' claims for defective manufacturing and for failure to warn. The court ruled, inter alia, that Raymond's statement, that the occurrence of the accident was not evidence of a defect that caused injuries, was not a prima facie showing that Mr. Demara could not prove causation. Further, Mr. Demara submitted evidence that the area on the outside of the drive wheel of the forklift was open, that his foot was crushed by the exposed wheel, and that the fork lift's warning light was not visible to pedestrians. The court further held that the consumer expectation test was not inapplicable as a matter of law because the relevant features of the forklift—an unguarded wheel and placement of a warning light—were not so technical or complex as to preclude jurors from using their own judgment.

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