Georgia Court of Appeals Holds Courts Assessing Products Liability Design Defect Claims Must Engage in a Risk Utility Analysis

While we presume household appliances are safe, many of the products we used on a daily basis pose some risk of harm. If a person sustains injuries due to a defective product, he or she may be able to recover damages from the manufacture of the product. In Mary Sheffield v. Conair Corporation,  a Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed that in assessing whether the design of a product is unreasonably dangerous a court must engage in a risk-utility analysis in which they assess whether the risks inherent in a design outweigh the usefulness of a product. If you are a Georgia resident who sustained injuries due to a defective product you should retain an experienced Georgia products liability attorney to assess your case and whether you may be able to recover damages.

Plaintiff’s Allegations

Allegedly, the plaintiff and her mother lived together in an apartment. The plaintiff was using a heating pad manufactured by the defendant on her neck. Approximately an hour and a half after the plaintiff began used the heating pad, her mother came to check on her and noticed an unusual odor. The plaintiff’s mother then pulled back the sheets and noticed the heating pad had burned the mattress. The plaintiff got out of bed, after which flames spread through the mattress and nearby curtains. The apartment subsequently burned down. The fire department conducted an investigation and the fire chief stated he believed the fire started in the area of the heating pad. The plaintiff filed a suit against the defendant alleged the heating pad had a design defect and alleged claims of negligence, strict liability, and failure to warn against the defendant.

Defendant’s Argument

The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, citing the testimony of its director of engineering investigations which opined that the heating pad was not defective and there was nothing to suggest it overheated. Rather, the director found the plaintiff used the heating pad improperly by falling asleep.

Fundamental Elements of a Design Defect Claim

The court noted that, under Georgia law, it is fundamental that courts analyzing a design defect claim the courts must engage in a risk-utility analysis, thereby balancing the inherent risks in the design of a product against the product’s utility. Several factors must be weighed in analyzing a product, including the product’s usefulness, the seriousness of any dangers imposed by the design, and how likely it is the product will cause harm.

In the subject case, the court stated that although the plaintiff alleged the heating pad was defectively designed because it could reach dangerous temperatures and did not have any safety mechanisms to allow a user to change the temperature, or an automatic shutoff feature, the plaintiff did not set forth any evidence in support of her claims. Specifically, she did not produce any evidence regarding the operating temperature of the heating pad, the temperature at which mattresses catch fire, or any evidence regarding the cost of incorporating safety features or how likely the features were to be effective. The court also noted the plaintiff did not provide any expert testimony in support of the allegation the design of the heating pad was defective. As such, the court held that the plaintiff failed to produce any evidence the fire was caused by a defective design.

The court also noted that proximate cause is another fundamental element to any design defect claim. Specifically, a plaintiff must show a causal connection between the allegedly defective design and the harm alleged. Here, the only testimony plaintiff offered in support of the allegation that a design defect caused the fire was the testimony of the fire chief, who stated he could not state that it was more likely than not the heating pad caused the fire. As such, the court held the plaintiff failed to adequately support her claim and affirmed the trial court ruling.

Consult an Experienced Georgia Personal Injury Attorney Today

If you were injured by a defective product, you may be able to recover damages. The experienced products liability attorneys of Scholle Law will help you to gather the facts and evidence needed to set forth a strong case that the manufacturer of the product should be held liable for your damages. Contact us at 770-717-5100to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

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