Second Department Reverses Trial Court’s Decision in Products Liability Case

The Appellate Division Second Department reversed an Order of the Supreme Court, Richmond County, denying the defendants’ motions for summary judgment in a products liability case. The case involved a food preparation worker at a restaurant who lost several fingers in a cheese grater.  The worker intended to dislodge a piece of cheese from a cheese grater by placing his fingers in the hopper of the grater without turning it off.  The plaintiff’s fingers then struck the spinning blade of the grinder, causing him to sustain the loss of several fingers. The plaintiff then commenced an action against the restaurant, its owner, as well as the distributor and seller of the meat grinder.

The action against both the distributor and seller of the meat grinder were based on strict products liability, negligent design, and failure to warn.  After depositions were conducted, the seller and distributor moved for summary judgment, arguing that the causes of action should be dismissed. The Supreme Court of Richmond County granted the defendants’ motions as to the cause of action for a failure to warn.  However, the Court denied the motions as to the causes of action for strict products liability and negligent design. The defendants then appealed the decision of the Court.

Upon review, the panel of Second Department Justices unanimously held that the Supreme Court should have granted the motions in regards to all three causes of action. The Court addressed each cause of action separately.  As for the cause of action for a failure to warn, the Court found that the defendants did not have a duty to warn.  They came to their decision by recognizing that a manufacturer or supplier is not under a duty to warn as to open and obvious dangers.  Here, the Justices opined that placing a hand into a cheese grinder while it was still on was clearly an open and obvious danger. Therefore, they agreed with the Supreme Court of Richmond County in dismissing the cause of action for a failure to warn.

However, the Appellate Court disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision to deny the motions for summary judgment as to the causes of action for strict products liability and negligent design.  After reviewing the deposition transcripts, the panel opined that the plaintiff was the sole proximate cause of his injuries as he knowingly placed his hand into the hopper of the operating cheese grater without turning it off. In opposition, the plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact. Therefore, the Appellate Court found that the defendants’ motions for summary judgment should have been granted and the causes of action for strict products liability and negligent design should have been dismissed.  With that being said, the Appellate Division reversed the Order of the Supreme Court of Richmond County and dismissed the causes of action against the seller and distributor.

To read a full copy of the decision click here.

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