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Products liability does not make the manufacturer an insurer of all foreseeable accidents which involve its product. Virtually any product is capable of producing injury when put to certain uses or misuses. The availability of an alternative design does not translate into a legal duty in products liability. An action is not maintainable in products liability merely because the design used was not the safest possible.
Guadalupe Hernandez, a Spanish speaking ground worker for Asplundh Tree Expert Co., had an accident whereby a substantial portion of his right hand was severed. Hernandez was injured when he was in the process of clearing debris underneath a wood chipper which was being operated without the guard covering the in-feed roller. Hernandez and his wife brought claims against Altec Environmental Products, LLC ("AEP") and Altec Industries, Inc. ("Altec Industries") based on strict product liability and negligence with respect to the design of the wood chipper, as well as claims of defective warnings and instructions and negligence in providing maintenance and operating instructions. AEP and Altec Industries moved for complete summary judgment.
Could the defendants be held liable based on the theory of strict product liability and negligence with respect to the design of the wood chipper, as well as claims of defective warnings and instructions?
The Court held that the subject wood chipper was designed and manufactured with a safety guard, and was, without dispute, reasonably safe for consumer use so long as the safety guard remained in place. The fact that the safety guard could be, and was in the instant case, removed from the machine, resulting in the loss of a substantial portion of Hernandez's hand, did not render the machine unreasonably dangerous so as to permit a jury finding to that effect. This was so because a manufacturer was, as a matter of law, under no duty to produce a fail-safe product, so long as the product posed no unreasonable dangers for consumer use. Since Plaintiffs had not produced any evidence that the subject wood chipper was defectively designed, or, as a result of its design, created an unreasonably dangerous condition as necessary to sustain a strict liability claim for the design of the wood chipper, summary judgment must be granted as to Count II (Strict liability Against AEP – Design Defects). Summary judgment should also be granted as to Counts III (Strict Liability – Defective Warnings and instructions) and VI (Negligent Warnings and instructions) since there was no duty on the part of the defendants to warn of such an obvious danger.