Hughes v. Magic Chef, Inc.

288 N.W.2d 542 (Iowa 1980)



Contributory negligence of a plaintiff is not a defense to strict liability when such negligence consists merely in a failure to discover the defect in the product, or to guard against the possibility of its existence. On the other hand the form of contributory negligence which consists in voluntarily and unreasonably proceeding to encounter a known danger, and commonly passes under the name of assumption of risk, is a defense to other cases of strict liability. If the user or consumer discovers the defect and is aware of the danger, and nevertheless proceeds unreasonably to make use of the product and is injured by it, he is barred from recovery.


The injured husband was burned when a stove made by the manufacturer exploded after the propane tank was refilled. The pilot lights on the stovetop were re-lit, but a pilot light in the oven's cavity was not re-lit, resulting in a build up of propane. The injured husband and the wife brought a strict products liability action against the manufacturer. The jury found for the manufacturer holding that the injured husband had contributory negligence in the circumstances of the case.The trial court also overruled the injured party's motion for a new trial. 


Should the motion for a new trial be granted?




The court reversed the decision of the lower trial and held that the injured husband and his wife's motion for a new trial should have been sustained in their strict products liability action against the manufacturer. It held that the injured husband's contributory negligence was not a defense for the manufacturer when such negligence consisted of a failure to discover a defect in a product. Therefore, the trial court's jury instruction, which precluded recovery upon a finding that the defect was discoverable by ordinary inspection, was erroneous. Further, misuse of a product was no longer a defense in products liability actions, and on retrial, the burden was on the injured husband to establish that the use made of the stove was reasonably foreseeable by the manufacturer. The trial court's instruction on assumption of the risk was erroneous because it did not require the manufacturer to prove that the injured husband was aware of a risk.

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