Tag Archives: Products Liability

Admissibility of Design Changes in Product Liability Cases

Most people have heard the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But, is the opposite true? If something was fixed, does that suggest it was broken in the first place. In many cases, evidence that a product’s de…

Does It Matter How Old My Product Is? – Statutes of Repose in Product Defect Cases

A frequent question that arises with claims involving alleged defective products is what effect, if any, the age of the product has on recovery. It’s a common misconception that simply because a product is “old,” any claim for damage…

Beware of Defendants Who Attempt to Push the Boundaries of the Economic Loss Rule (Texas)

In most jurisdictions today, to recover under a strict products liability theory, the Plaintiff must prove that a defect in the subject product was a producing cause of the Plaintiff’s damages. More importantly, in order to recover under a strict products liability theory, the Plaintiff must show that the defective product caused physical harm to person(s) and/or property other than the defective product itself. In East River S.S. Corp. v. Transamerica Delaval, 476 U.S. 858, 866, 106 S. Ct. 2295, 90 L. Ed. 2d 865 (1985), a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruled that when a defective product injures only itself and causes only economic harm, tort claims (i.e., negligence, strict products liability) do not apply. Justice Harry A. Blackmun, writing for the Court, stated “a manufacturer in a commercial relationship has no duty under either a negligence or strict products-liability theory to prevent a product from injuring itself.” Therefore, in East River, suit could only be brought under a warranty theory. Suit under a warranty theory could no longer be filed because of a time limit in the contract, so the Plaintiff was left with no remedy. That, in a nutshell, is the Economic Loss Rule.
 

Quoting from Vincent R. Johnson, The Boundary – Line Function of the Economic Loss Rule, 66 Wash. & Lee L.Rev. 523, 534–35 (2009), the Texas Supreme Court emphasized that using the term “the economic loss rule” is “something of a misnomer” because “there is not one economic loss rule that is broadly applicable throughout the field of torts, but rather several more limited rules that govern recovery of economic losses in selected areas of the law.” Sharyland Water Supply Corp. v. City of Alton, 354 S.W.3d 407, 415 (Tex. 2011). In products liability cases, when a loss arises from failure of a defective product and the damage or loss is limited to the product itself, “recovery is generally limited to remedies grounded in contract (or contract-based statutory remedies), rather than tort.” Id. at 415. However, the economic loss rule “does not preclude tort recovery if a defective product causes physical harm to the ultimate user or consumer or other property of the user or consumer in addition to causing damage to the product itself.” Equistar Chems., L.P. v. Dresser-Rand Co., 240 S.W.3d 864, 867 (Tex. 2007) (citing Nobility Homes of Texas, Inc. v. Shivers, 557 S.W.2d 77, 79-80 (Tex. 1977)); Signal Oil & Gas Co. v. Universal Oil Prods., 572 S.W.2d 320, 325 (Tex. 1978); Mid Continent Aircraft Corp. v. Curry County Spraying Serv., 572 S.W.2d 308, 313 (Tex.1978)).
 

In recent years, some courts have held that when a defective product is “integrated” into another product or system, the whole integrated product is “the product itself” for purposes of the economic loss rule. For example, in Pugh v. Gen. Terrazzo Supplies, Inc., 243 S.W.3d 84 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2007, pet. denied), the First District Court of Appeals of Texas concluded that strict products liability and negligence claims brought by the purchasers of a home against the supplier of EIFS were barred by the economic loss rule. Pugh, 243 S.W.3d at 93. The homeowners in Pugh alleged that the EIFS, which had been applied on their home, allowed moisture to penetrate into their home and caused damage to their home consisting of “decayed wood framing, water damage, and mold” and “warping in their hardwood flooring.” Id. at 86-87. The Pugh court noted that all of the alleged damages were property damages to the home and found that, “under the controlling case law, there was no personal injury or damage to other property that would have permitted the [homeowners] to assert a tort claim that would be excepted from the economic loss doctrine.” Id. at 94.

Pugh and cases in other jurisdictions like it raise interesting questions regarding the breadth of the economic loss rule. Should the integrated products approach apply only when a component part is integrated into another product? Should the rule apply to products installed in homes, which are not products per se, but improvements to real property? Should the rule apply to replacement products that were added to the original product, or just to the original product and its component parts? What is required to show a product is “integrated” into another product? If the rule applies to residential or commercial structures, what products are truly integrated? Prefabricated fireplaces? EIFS? Kitchen appliances? Extension cords? Light bulbs? Toilet ball cock valves? Toilet tank connectors? What if the product was added by the property owner years after the property was built?

In addition to products liability claims, some courts have applied the economic loss rule to construction claims. The doctrine has been applied to preclude tort claims brought to recover economic losses when those losses are the subject matter of a contract. See Jim Walter Homes, Inc. v. Reed, 77 S.W.2d 617, 618 (Tex. 1988). In Jim Walter Homes, the Court held that when the injury suffered is limited to economic loss to the subject of the contract itself, the action sounds in contract alone. Id. In Schambacher v. R.E.I. Elec., Inc., 2010 WL 3075703 (Tex.App. – Fort Worth 2010, no pet.), the Fort Worth Court of Appeals held the economic loss rule barred tort claims against two subcontractors who performed electrical and insulation work during the construction of a house that was damaged by fire. Jim Walter Homes and Schambacher also raise questions regarding the scope of the economic loss rule. Does the rule apply in the absence of privity of contract between the plaintiff and the defendant? If the defendant’s work was limited to the installation of the electrical systems, which cause a fire that ultimately destroys a home, does the economic loss rule bar recovery in tort for the entire home or just the subject of the subcontract?
 

The above cases relating to the economic loss rule have come from Texas, but every jurisdiction has their own interpretation as to the scope of the economic loss rule.  As a result, it is important that you review these cases with counsel as your state may allow tort causes of action under the specific facts of your case. 

Heavy Equipment Fires – What The Subrogating Carrier Should Know

Heavy equipment fires occur frequently and can lead to substantial losses. The loss of the equipment itself is often compounded by the insured’s loss of use of the equipment.  For businesses that rely extensively on heavy equipment (e.g., ag…

15 Million Schneider Electric Surge Protectors Recalled

Last week Schneider Electric recalled over 15 million surge protectors that pose a fire hazard to consumers and their property. Schneider issued a recall on select model American Power Conversion (APC) series 7 and 8 surge protectors that it manufactur…

California Court Affirms Strict Product Liability Despite Third-Party Criminal Act

A California court has given new meaning to the judicial maxim “on a clear day you can foresee forever!”  In Collins v Navistar 2013 DJAR 4169, the Court of Appeals, Third Appellate District, held that a manufacturer could be held stri…

Exhaust Fan Fires: Crimp Connection Failure and the Melted Copper "Smoking Guns"

Exhaust fans commonly found in the ceilings of bathrooms and laundry rooms cause many residential fires and fires in commercial and industrial buildings. Exhaust fan fires have caused more than $50 million in property damages.[1]
Ex…

Smoke Alarms–Recommendations for Use

Working smoke alarms are a necessity for early detection of house fires. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 40% of residential fires between 2008 and 2010 involved home cooking equipment. Heating and cooling equipment were responsible…

BMW Recalls Mini and Mini Cooper Cars

On January 10, 2012, BMW of North America, LLC, announced a voluntary recall of 88,911 Mini and Mini Cooper cars manufactured between 2006-2011 and equipped with 4-cylinder turbocharged engines. The recall arises from overheating of a circuit board whi…

EDRs–You Never Know Who’s Watching

EDRs or "black boxes" now are contained in a wide range of consumer products including copiers, household appliances, alarm systems and cars. "EDRs" can provide a final data picture of how a product was last operating before a failu…