In a products liability case a cause of action for strict liability is not identical to a claim for breach of warranty; a strict liability claim is not per se broader than a breach of warranty claim such that the former encompasses the latter.
Appellants (husband and injured wife) purchased a roasting pan advertised by appellee home shopping channel and manufactured by appellee manufacturer. The roasting pan was advertised to provide a multitude of cooking purposes, including roasting a turkey weighing up to 25 pounds. Appellants bought the pan to roast a large turkey. The handles on the pan were too small and appellant injured wife was burned when the pan slipped out of her hands. They filed a diversity products liability suit alleging strict liability and breach of warranty against appellees (cable home shopping channel and manufacturer). The trial court instructed the jury only on the law with regard to strict liability, and the jury found in favor of appellees. The trial judge denied appellants' motions to set aside the jury verdict and for a new trial. Appellants sought review of the order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
In light of the evidence presented by appellants of the multi-purpose nature of the product at issue, should the district court, applying New York law, have granted appellants' request for a separate jury charge on the breach of warranty claim in addition to the charge on the strict liability claim?
The court reversed the order denying the motion filed by appellants, husband and injured wife, for a new trial because the jury should have been instructed separately on the charges of strict liability and breach of warranty because of the multi-purpose nature of the product at issue. The court held that where an item was offered for sale, was purported to serve providing multiple purposes, and it was unsafe for one of its purposes, the jury was to be charged on the separate causes of action for strict liability and breach of warranty. While claims of strict products liability and breach of warranty are often used interchangeably, under New York law the two causes of action are definitively different. The imposition of strict liability for an alleged design "defect" is determined by a risk-utility standard. The notion of "defect" in a Uniform Commercial Code-based breach of warranty claim focuses, instead, on consumer expectations. The court remanded for a new trial on the breach of warranty claim.