Not Every Injury Means “Defective Design”

When used properly, a product should not hurt or endanger its user. If injury or death does occur as a result of a faulty design or manufacturing flaw, the company must be held accountable. But if a product is simply used in a negligent manner, with the user ignoring warnings and disregarding instructions, the company is not necessarily at fault. Recently in the news, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that a construction lift made by Genie Industries was not unreasonably dangerous when used properly, and design defect did not cause the death of the electrician who fell 40 feet from it.

The Cathedral in the Pines Church in Beaumont had hired workers to install fiber-optic cables in its ceilings, and allowed the workers to use the church’s lift. Each time the workers needed to move to a different area, they had to lower the lift completely, transport it, and then raise it back up. A church employee suggested the workers just move the lift with the platform (and worker) in the air, to expedite the job. The workers expressed reservations, but the employee assured them that he “did it all the time.” The electrician on the ground moved the fully extended 40’ lift, which then tipped over, killing co-worker Walter Matak.

The Texas Supreme Court overturned a wrongful death trial which found Genie responsible for the death. The Supreme Court said that Matak’s death occurred just as the eye-level warnings on the machine had predicted. With the sheer number of these lifts used all over the world, there have only been 3 similar accidents in the last 10 years, none of which involved trying to destabilize a fully extended 40-foot lift. Chief Justice Nathan Hecht called the misuse “egregious,” and said “the chance that anyone would attempt to [move the lift] with the platform fully elevated is only one in millions.”

There are limits to what a company will be held responsible for. The electricians most likely didn’t read the manual for the lift. They ignored the warning signs on the lift itself. They took the advice of an uninformed bystander. And they ignored obvious danger. The Texas Supreme Court did not see this as “defective design.”

Read the original article here.