Law School Case Brief
Gutterman v. Target Corp. - 242 F. Supp. 3d 695 (N.D. Ill. 2017)
To succeed in a claim of negligence, the plaintiff must plead and prove the existence of a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, a breach of that duty, and injury proximately resulting from the breach. The existence of a duty is a question of law.
Under Illinois law, a plaintiff can bring a claim that a product is defectively designed through causes of action in both negligence and strict products liability. A negligence-based theory focuses on the defendant's conduct, whereas a strict products liability—based theory focuses on the product at issue. To prove a product is defectively designed under a negligence theory, the same common law framework applies as outside the products liability context. A plaintiff must prove that (1) the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff; (2) the defendant breached that duty; (3) the breach proximately caused the plaintiff's injury; and (4) the plaintiff suffered damages. Moreover, the crucial question in a negligent-design case is whether the manufacturer exercised reasonable care in the design of the product. To prove a strict products liability claim based on a design defect, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the product's design renders it unreasonably dangerous.
Plaintiff parents filed an action on behalf of their daughter against defendants, Target and Bravo Sports ("Bravo), a retail store and a manufacturer, for injuries that the daughter sustained upon falling off a skateboard she was riding in the Target store. Bravo manufactured and distributed the skateboard. Plaintiffs went to Target and allowed their almost 12-year-old daughter to go to another part of the store where she took the skateboard off of a shelf, rode it in the store aisles, fell, and was injured. The skateboard was partially packaged, but was missing its "truck box", which covered the skateboard's rear wheels. Plastic wrapping covered the skateboard's grip tape surface. Defendants moved for summary judgment.
Was the skateboard on which Madison suffered her injuries an open and obvious danger, such that defendants owed Madison no duty of care?
The court granted summary judgment in favor of both Target and Bravo. Riding a skateboard in a Target store presented an open and obvious danger. A reasonable near-12-year-old in Madison's position would recognize, just as Madison admittedly did, that a skateboard is a precarious device that rolls on wheels and invites the user to fall. The court concluded that the dangers presented by riding the skateboard in the circumstances that existed in this case would be open and obvious to a reasonable near-12-year-old in Madison’s position at the time of the accident. As such, Madison’s injury was not reasonably foreseeable to Target, because it could reasonably have expected Madison to avoid the open and obvious danger presented by the skateboard. Similarly, because the open and obvious nature of the danger presented by the skateboard made it likely that Madison would avoid any injury, Madison's injury was not likely to occur. As to Bravo, the court also found that the open and obvious dangerous condition of the skateboard, and its missing truck box packaging, made it likely that Madison would avoid the injuries she suffered; it was not reasonably foreseeable that someone would ride the skateboard in a store's aisles. On the strict products liability claims against Bravo, the court found that plaintiffs failed to show a duty to warn, as the danger was open and obvious, and that no jury could find that the truck box and plastic wrap were design defects.
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