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Law School Case Brief

Hall v. E. I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co. - 345 F. Supp. 353 (E.D.N.Y. 1972)

Rule:

Regardless of whether evidence of joint control is sufficient to support an inference of tacit agreement, it is still relevant to the question of joint control of risk. The dynamics of market competition frequently result in explicit or implicit safety standards, codes, and practices which are widely adhered to in an entire industry. Where such standards or practices exist, the industry operates as a collective unit in the double sense of stabilizing the production costs of safety features and in establishing an industry-wide custom which influences, but does not conclusively determine, the applicable standard of care. The existence of industry-wide standards or practices alone will not support, in all circumstances, the imposition of joint liability. But where individual defendant-manufacturers cannot be identified, the existence of industry-wide standards or practices could support a finding of joint control of risk and a shift of the burden of proving causation to the defendants.

Facts:

Across the nation, 18 accidents occurred in which children were injured by blasting caps. Plaintiffs parents and children brought two actions against defendants manufacturers and trade association, alleging that the practice of the explosives industry of not placing any warning upon individual blasting caps and of failing to take other safety measures created an unreasonable risk of harm that resulted in the children's injuries. They filed suit against substantially the entire blasting cap industry and its trade association seeking joint liability. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. 

Issue:

Can blasting cap manufacturers and their industry trade association be held jointly liable for injuries caused by their product?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

In the first suit, the United States District Court held that the parents and children raised genuine issues of fact to defeat the manufacturers' motion for dismissal. In the second suit, the Court dismissed the claim against a manufacturer which had not produced the cap causing the injury.

The Court held that the manufacturers could be held jointly liable because it was alleged that the manufacturers obtained their knowledge through a jointly-sponsored trade association in which the manufacturers delegated at least some functions of safety investigation and design to the industry. In denying defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court found that plaintiffs' allegations raised genuine issues. The manufacturers could have been found to have had a duty because it was alleged that they had actual knowledge of the risks to the children and of feasible safety measures. The allegation that defendants had actual knowledge of risks to children and of feasible safety measures provided a basis for finding an applicable duty of care under negligence and strict liability principles.

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