Law School Case Brief
Parish v. ICON Health & Fitness, Inc. - 719 N.W.2d 540 (Iowa 2006)
Under a design-defect claim, a plaintiff is essentially arguing that, even though the product meets the manufacturer's design specifications, the specifications themselves create unreasonable risks. To succeed, a plaintiff must ordinarily show the existence of a reasonable alternative design, and that this design would, at a reasonable cost, have reduced the foreseeabilty of harm posed by the product.
Plaintiff Delbert Parish purchased a 14-foot trampoline manufactured by defendant manufacturer Jumpking, Inc. (“Jumpking”) for use in a backyard. While attempting to do a back somersault on the trampoline, Parish landed on his head and was rendered a quadriplegic. Parish then filed the present suit against Jumpking on theories of defective design of the trampoline, and negligence in failing to warn of the danger in using it. The district court entered summary judgment against Parish on all claims. On appeal, he argued that there were genuine issues of material fact on his design-defect claim, and on the adequacy of Jumpking's warnings.
Were there genuine issues of material fact in the injured plaintiff’s design-defect claim, and on the adequacy of defendant trampoline manufacturer's warnings, thus making the grant of summary judgment in favor of the manufacturer an error?
The appellate court affirmed the district court’s judgment, holding that plaintiff has failed to generate a genuine issue of fact sufficient to except the trampoline from the alternative-design requirement of 2 of the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability. Therefore, the plaintiff’s design-defect claim under that section must be rejected. The Court noted that under a design-defect claim, a plaintiff was essentially arguing that, even though the product met the manufacturer’s design specifications, the specifications themselves created unreasonable risks. To succeed under section 2(b), a plaintiff must ordinarily show the existence of a reasonable alternative design and that this design would, at a reasonable cost, have reduced the foreseeabilty of harm posed by the product. In the present case, the plaintiff conceded that he had not offered an alternative design; however, he argued that he met an exception to this because the trampoline itself was manifestly unreasonable based on its low social utility and high degree of danger. However, the manifestly unreasonable exception was used sparingly. The Court noted that in cases involving common and widely distributed products, courts generally have concluded that legislatures and administrative agencies can, more appropriately than courts, consider the desirability of commercial distribution of some categories of widely used and consumed, but nevertheless dangerous, products. It was undisputed that trampolines were widely used, caused fewer injuries than other activities, and had health benefits. The Court further held that the plaintiff has failed to establish that the warnings were inadequate. The trampoline and the safety ring surrounding it both had numerous warnings, including one relating to the very act that the injured party was attempting when the accident occurred.
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