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NY's First Department Addresses Distributor's Liability In Strict Products Action

June 26, 2009

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In <i>Fernandez v. Riverdale Terrace, et. al,</i> the First Department dealt with the liability of distributors in strict products liability cases. In <i>Fernandez</i>, the plaintiff sustained injuries while cleaning a defective building trash compactor. The general contractor had purchased the compactor from subcontractor Action, who pursuant to the sale, was obligated to install the compactor. Action chose the make and model of the subject compactor, purchased it directly from an entity related to the manufacturer at a "distributor" price, and then subcontracted the installation of the compactor to that entity. In affirming the lower court’s denial of Action’s motion for summary judgment, the First Department reaffirmed that a party who sustains an injury from a defective product may seek relief against the product manufacturer or others in the distribution chain if the defect was a substantial factor in causing the injury. Consequently, a distributor of a defective product is subject to strict liability, regardless of whether they merely took an order or shipped a product, and never actually inspected, controlled, installed or serviced the product. Since Action failed to submit evidence to establish that it was not a distributor, and only asserted that it did not design, manufacture, install or maintain the compactor, its motion was denied. The court’s decision implied that Action actually stepped into the shoes of the distributor.

Thanks to Lora Gleicher for her contribution to this post.

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