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A defendant moving for summary judgment in a defective design case must do more than state, in categorical language in an attorney's affirmation, that its product is inherently dangerous and that its dangers are well known. Rather, to be entitled to summary judgment in such a case, the defendant must demonstrate that its product is reasonably safe for its intended use; that is, the utility of the product outweighs its inherent danger.
Lewis Red Devil Lye (RDL) is 100% sodium hydroxide, a chemical compound commonly known as lye. The product is sold in the form of dry crystals, and it is packaged and marketed to laypersons as a product that clears clogged drains. Yun Tung Chow was injured while using RDL to clear a clogged floor drain in the kitchen of the Manhattan restaurant where he worked. Yun Tung Chow’s use of the product was in a manner inconsistent with the label's instructions and warnings. Yun Tung Chow cannot read English and testified through an interpreter that, although he had used RDL many times in the past, he never read the instructions and warnings printed on RDL's bottle. Instead, he learned how to handle RDL by following the examples of others he observed using the product. Yun Tung Chow filed a products liability action against the defendant entities responsible for the manufacture, distribution and package design of RDL. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants. The court of appeals affirmed.
Did the lower courts err in granting summary judgment on Yun Tung Chow’s design cause of action?
The court found that the defendants did not show that it was reasonable for them to place it into the stream of commerce as a drain cleaning product for use by a layperson. A factfinder could conclude on the basis of the record that the product was so inherently dangerous that it should never have found its way into the stream of commerce as packaged and marketed. Merely stating in an attorney's affirmation that the product was dangerous, that everyone knew it was dangerous, and that precise warnings of its danger were given and not followed was insufficient to entitle defendants to summary judgment as a matter of law. Defendants were required to demonstrate that the product was reasonably safe for its intended use, but they offered no such evidence.