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Federal Court Shuts Down Plaintiff On A Products Liability Warning/Defect Case (PA)

December 16, 2022

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In the recent case of <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/Mains-v.-Sherwin-Williams-Company.pdf">Mains v. Sherwin-Williams Company</a>,</em> United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania reiterated a plaintiff must actually read the product’s warning labels, or provide evidence to support a reasonable inference that additional warnings may have prevented the injury.  Plaintiffs’ suit for strict liability, negligence, and breach of implied warranty, alleged fire damage to their residence resulting from spontaneous combustion of defendants’ wood stain product.  Defendant-Sherwin-Williams moved for summary judgment, arguing plaintiffs cannot prove causation on their strict-liability-failure-to-warn claim because they admitted to not reading the product’s warning labels.

Plaintiffs’ home burned the night after Defendant’s wood stain had been used to stain the home’s outdoor deck.  Plaintiffs alleged rags with the  spontaneously combustible stain on them were improperly left out in the sun after use, which caused them to heat up and catch fire.  The can of wood stain did have a small warning in the back of it, advising users of proper disposal methods, and the risk of combustion if such warning wasn’t adhered to.<a href="#_ftn1" name="_ftnref1"><sup>[1]</sup></a>

Court held plaintiffs must show “evidence in the record to support a reasonable inference additional reminders may have forestalled” injury.  While Plaintiff argued that “he may have read warnings on the can if they had ‘jumped out’ at him,” but he provided no expert to opine that the defective warning, or the product in general, caused the fire.  The court found Plaintiff’s statement to be purely “speculative” and therefore insufficient to establish causation.

<em>Mains </em>case clarifies necessity of causation evidence in a claim for defective warnings, and they must demonstrate that they either read the allegedly defective warnings, or provide evidence, beyond mere speculation, to support a reasonable inference that additional reminders may have prevented the underlying injury. By establishing these prerequisite hurdles for plaintiffs looking to sustain a defective-warning cause of action, the District Court’s decision is a victory for defendants and/or potential defendants subjected to products-liability-warning-defect claims.<a href="#_ftnref1" name="_ftn1">[1]</a> <em>Id.</em> at 3.

Thanks to Stephen Kerstein for his assistance in this post.  Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact <a href="mailto:tbracken@wcmlaw.com">Tom Bracken</a>.

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