Plaintiff’s Comparative Negligence Not Admissible In A Strict Liability Action (PA)
In Cote v. Schnell Industries, 2022 WL 16814032 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 8. 2022), Cote was injured while working at a transfer yard moving sand used in “fracking” operations from railcars to tractor-trailers for delivery to fracking customers. When Cote reached his hand into a piece of equipment to dislodge the wet sand so the sand could be properly transported onto the conveyor belt, his co-worker simultaneously activated the machine’s “power take off” lever, which slammed a gate shut and nearly severed Cote’s hand.
The defendant equipment manufacturer argued that Cote acted negligently because “he knew of the danger posed by putting his hand through the [gate] while the machine was energized.” Defendant’s theory related directly to the alleged product. Cote argued that the equipment was defective because “it cannot isolate, deenergize and lockout its [power take off lever] so that workers can safely unload jammed sand . . . without risk of the door closing.”
The court granted Cote’s motion in limine, holding that defendant was precluded from arguing that Cote’s negligence caused the accident. The Court reasoned that because Cote’s alleged negligence “cannot be causally distinguished from the elements of the [equipment] Cote considers defective, [defendant] is unable to show ‘that none of the alleged product defects contributed in any way to the accident.’”
This case stands for the proposition that a plaintiff’s conduct in a products liability case is relevant only if the conduct was the sole cause of the accident and unrelated to the alleged defect.
Thanks to Sarah Polacek for her contribution to this post. Please contact Heather Aquino with any questions.