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Manufacturer Avoids Products Liability Where Third Party Altered Products (NY)

April 22, 2022

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In a products liability action, merely claiming failure to warn does not amount to the standard necessary to prove proximate cause. The New York Appellate Division, Second Department, recently addressed this issue in <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/John-Kosta-v.-WDF-Inc..pdf">John Kosta v. WDF, Inc.</a></em> In that case, defendant Serpentix Conveyor Corporation manufactured three conveyor machines to be placed in a New York City Department of Environmental Protection facility, which was undergoing renovations by defendant WDF, Inc. After the conveyors were delivered, WDF added caster wheels to them so that they could be moved. It was during this move that plaintiff suffered fatal injuries.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In New York, a manufacturer who places a defective product into the stream of commerce may be liable for the injuries caused thereby. However, a manufacturer who has designed a safe product is not liable for substantial modifications or alterations made by a third party which renders the product defective or unsafe. In moving for summary judgment, Serpentix established that when the conveyors were delivered, they were required to be affixed to the ground. Serpentix also established that upon learning of the alterations, it informed WDF and the DEP of the need for the conveyors to be affixed to the ground.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Under these circumstances, the Second Department affirmed the Supreme Court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s product liability claims against Serpentix based on design defect and failure to warn. The court held that “for there to be recovery for damages stemming from a product defective because of the inadequacy or absence of warnings, the failure to warn must be a substantial cause of the events producing injury.”</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The <em>Kosta</em> case reaffirms the general rule that a product manufacturer may avoid strict product liability where substantial modifications or alterations are made to its otherwise safe product by a third party.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thank you to Gabriella Scarmato for her contribution to this post. Please contact <a href="mailto:agibbs@wcmlaw.com">Andrew Gibbs</a> with any questions.</p>

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