Plaintiff fails to prove a product liability claim because she can’t prove what tube was the result of her injury.Posted: June 6, 2016
Issues of why the plaintiff was standing up and not getting out of the way on a tubing hill was not discussed in the appellate decision.
State: Illinois, Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, Fifth Division
Plaintiff: Susan Buckel
Defendant: Tube Pro Inc.
Plaintiff Claims: Negligence (based on a product liability claim)
Defendant Defenses: No proof the allegedly defective product was theirs
Holding: For the Defendant
The defendant is a snow tubing operation at a city park in Illinois. The plaintiff was tubing when something sticking out of the bottom of the tube slowed her down and stopped her. While stopped on the hill the plaintiff was struck by another tuber and was injured.
The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment saying the plaintiff could not prove her case because she could not identify what tube, let alone whose tube, (manufactured by whom), was the defective tube. The court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed.
There was also exculpatory language on the back of the lift ticket the plaintiff purchased. It was raised by the defendant and discussed in one paragraph in the decision, but was not used by the court to reach its conclusion.
Analysis: making sense of the law based on these facts.
The court started its decision by looking at the testimony from the plaintiff used to describe the tube she was riding. Her testimony of the color of the tube did not match the receipts from the tubing hill that showed the tubes that were purchased from the defendant. The tubes purchased from the defendant was also purchased ten years prior to the accident so very few if any of them were still in operation with the tubing hill.
Defendant attached the deposition of plaintiff, who testified that the colors of the tubes at Villa Olivia on the date of her accident were “red, green, and blue.” Defendant also relied on the deposition of plaintiff to establish that the snow tube she used at the time of her accident was red. Plaintiff testified, “I believe it was red.”
Defendant also attached the deposition transcript of William Pawson, who testified that the snow tubes purchased by Villa Olivia from defendant were red and blue. William Pawson testified that he believed “those [were] the only two colors that we sold them.” Defendant also relied on William Pawson’s testimony that Villa Olivia purchased Tough Tube snow tubes that were “a mix of red, blue, maybe some green and plum, I would imagine, but red and blue for sure.” Defendant argued that the evidence showed that defendant was just one of the possible manufacturers which may have sold the red snow tube in question.
The defendants also introduced evidence showing that at the time tubes were purchased from the defendant, tubes were also purchased from another tube manufacturer.
The tubes sold by the defendant also had a plastic bottom, and the plaintiff testified her inner tube had a regular rubber bottom.
The court then looked at how a product liability claim based on negligence needed to be proven under Illinois’s law.
“A product liability claim [based] in negligence is concerned with both defendant’s fault and the condition of the product.” To succeed in a products liability claim based on negligence, a plaintiff must prove: (1) the existence of a duty; (2) a breach of that duty; (3), an injury that was proximately caused by that breach, and (4) damages. “‘A manufacturer has a nondelegable duty to produce a product that is reasonably safe for all intended uses.'” “A plaintiff must show that the manufacturer knew or should have known of the risk posed by the design at the time of the manufacture to establish that the manufacturer acted unreasonably based on the foreseeability of harm.” Moreover, in a products liability action asserting a claim based in negligence, “[t]he plaintiff must show that the manufacturer breached his duty to design something safer for the user because the quality of the product in question was insufficient.”
However, the most important issue is the plaintiff must identify the manufacturer of the defective product and establish a relationship between the injury and the product. The identification of the manufacturer must be more than speculation.
Most importantly, “the plaintiff must identify the manufacturer of the product and establish a causal relationship between the injury and the product.” While the plaintiff may prove these elements by direct or circumstantial evidence, “liability cannot be based on mere speculation, guess, or conjecture.”
Because the tube described by the plaintiff was different from what was sold by the manufacturer and because the plaintiff did not have the actual tube, the appellate court upheld the decision of the trial court.
She testified that a photograph of a snow tube used by her son showed a red-colored tube, but did not indicate the manufacturer’s name on it. Without the snow tube itself or any examination of it, plaintiff cannot establish or raise a genuine issue of material fact that defendant was the manufacturer. Without the snow tube itself or any photographs of it, or an examination of the snow tube to determine if the accident was a result of a preexisting defect, plaintiff cannot prove a prima facie products liability case against the defendant.
So Now What?
Simple but very lengthy decision because the court bent over backwards to prove why it could not rule for the plaintiff. Yet this decision is instructive because you have to have more than an injury to ask for money in a lawsuit or claim.
There must be a relationship with what caused you the injury, and the person you are claiming caused the injury and a relationship with you. Lacking one of those it does not matter if you signed a release or assumed the risk because you can’t prove negligence.
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