With regard to a product liability action, Pennsylvania recognizes a cause of action under strict liability for insufficient warnings. For an insufficient warnings claim, a plaintiff must establish the same three elements required under a strict liability claim for design defect claims, including causation.
The plaintiffs claim damages for injuries sustained in a hunting accident in 1997. On December 15, 1997, John Gower was hunting with his two brothers, Clark and Craig, and with his brother-in-law, Robert Swan, at Long Pond, Pennsylvania. They spent much of the day hunting for deer in the woods. At approximately 4:30 p.m., after a day of hunting, the plaintiff left the woods and headed toward the truck in which they had driven to Long Pond. As he emerged from the woods, he turned around for one more visual sweep of the woods and field. Gower was preparing to unload his gun when the gun discharged, shooting him in the foot. Gower was wearing thick gloves, and his fingers were inside the trigger guard when the gun discharged. At the time of the discharge the plaintiff had not taken the gun off the "safe" position. The rifle was designed so as not to fire when in the "safe" position.
Can Savage Arms be held liable for injuries caused by a defective rifle manufactured by Savage Industries?
The court held that the facts in the case supported successor liability under the product-line exception because the gun manufacturers had acquired all or substantially all of the manufacturing assets of the predecessor company and continued to produce the same product under its original name and logo.
The Court finds that the facts do support successor liability under the product-line exception. According to the testimony of Ronald Coburn, Savage Arms acquired the Model 99 product line in 1989 together with the associated tools, equipment, and intellectual property, the physical manufacturing plant, and the good will of its predecessor. Savage Arms produced the same product as Savage Industries and continued to use the Savage name and logo for the product line. Although some manufacturing changes were made in the Model 99 over the years after Savage Arms' acquisition of the product line, these changes were not reflected in product information or catalogues.
Even if the Court were to conclude that causation is a required element of the product-line exception, the Court would still deny summary judgment, because the facts related to causation are unclear. Savage Arms was created as a new corporation by the owners of Savage Industries around the time of the bankruptcy. Savage Industries then sold the four product lines to Savage Arms as part of a bankruptcy sale. It therefore appears that Savage Arms came out of bankruptcy under the same ownership. Under these circumstances, Savage Arms would have been liable as a successor to Savage Industries. liability is imposed where "the purchasing corporation is merely a continuation of the selling corporation.") Thereafter, Savage Arms was sold to Challenger International. It appears from the record that Savage Arms ceased to exist as an independent entity as a result of that sale. Subsequently, Challenger International sold Savage Arms to Ronald Coburn. It is unclear whether this purchase caused Challenger International to cease business or not. On the facts as presented in the record at this stage, the Court therefore finds that the causation requirement may have been met.