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Law School Case Brief

McCormack v. Hankscraft Co. - 278 Minn. 322, 154 N.W.2d 488 (1967)

Rule:

At this late date in the development of the law relating to the tort liability of manufacturers of all types of products for injuries caused by their products, there can be no doubt that a manufacturer is subject to liability for a failure to use reasonable care in the design of its product to any user or consumer, including any person who may reasonably be expected to be in the vicinity of its use, to protect against unreasonable risk of physical harm while the product is used for its intended purpose. Such liability may equally be predicated upon a failure to use reasonable care in giving adequate and accurate instructions as to the use of the product and a warning as to any dangers reasonably foreseeable in its intended use.

Facts:

Plaintiff Andrea McCormack brought this action for damages by Donald McCormack, her father and natural guardian, alleging that defendant Hankscraft Company, Inc.'s (“Hankscraft”) negligence and breach of implied and express warranties in the manufacture and sale of a steam vaporizer caused her to suffer substantial personal injuries. During the three-week trial, Hankscraft’s motions for a directed verdict following the submission of McCormack’s evidence and at the close of all the evidence were denied. The trial court submitted the case to the jury on the questions of negligence and breach of express warranties, refusing to instruct on implied warranties. The jury returned a verdict against defendant, awarding McCormack $150,000 damages. Hankscraft’s motion for judgment n.o.v. and in the alternative for a new trial was granted. The motion alleged multiple grounds, including that the verdict was "not justified by the evidence," was "contrary to law," and that there were "excessive damages," but the trial court in its order merely declared that the motion "is in all things granted" without expressly specifying the grounds upon which the relief was granted. Plaintiff appealed.

Issue:

Was the evidence sufficient to sustain the jury's verdict of defendant manufacturer's liability and support the reasonable inference that defendant's negligence and breach of warranty proximately caused the injury?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The appellate court reversed with directions to enter judgment on the verdict. The court held that failure to warn and inherent dangers of use were not obvious and were outside the realm of common knowledge of potential users. Moreover, the court held that liability was also sufficiently evidenced by the unsafe design of the product. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury's verdict of liability on the ground that defendant was negligent in adopting an unsafe design. For example, defendant failed to exercise reasonable care in securing the plastic cover to the jar to guard against the reasonably foreseeable danger that a child would tip the unit over when it was in use and be seriously burned by coming in contact with the scalding water that would instantaneously gush out of the jar.

The court also concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support a finding of liability upon a breach of an express warranty. The court also found the evidence adequate to support a reasonable inference that defendant's negligence and breach of warranty proximately caused plaintiff's injury.The court also held that neither lack of privity of contract nor failure to provide timely notice under Minn. Stat. § 512.49 barred recovery because the defective product was not governed by the law of contract warranty but was governed by the law of strict liability.

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