Misfunctioning or Malfunctioning Machinery or Equipment
Most third-party product liability claims are based on design defect, in which an injury occurs as a direct result of a defective product lacking adequate safety features or warnings.
However, there are some product liability claims that stem from malfunctioning equipment or machinery. That is, the product may have been properly designed without defect, but the device or tool does not function as advertised or intended, and thus results in injury to the consumer.
At Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, we know that in order to prove a claim of equipment or machinery malfunction, it’s necessary to clearly establish the problem was not operator error. If there is a defect that caused the product to malfunction, such an assertion would be easier to prove. But if a defect is not obvious or apparent, it will be up to your legal team to prove there wasn’t a secondary cause for the malfunction, and the product wasn’t being used in a way that was unreasonable or unforeseeable.
Depending on the type of product, this can occur in several contexts. For example, a machine might cause injury if it “double trips” or starts another cycle on its own. Another example would be if the machine unexpectedly starts or turns off on its own, resulting in damage. Other types of malfunction can involve issues with mechanical, electrical, hydraulic or pneumatic systems.
Some types of malfunctioning products that have been known to cause serious injury include:
- Lawn mowers
- Leaf blowers
- Power tools
- Construction equipment
- Vehicle acceleration pedals
- Children’s toys
- Portable heaters
- Household appliances (refrigerators, microwaves, blenders, etc.)
- Pool and spa equipment
- Sporting equipment
- Heating, cooling and ventilation equipment
- Smoke/carbon monoxide detectors
Equipment malfunction can be caused by a number of factors. It may involve improper handling or use by operator. It could also involve equipment that is poorly maintained or worn out. Sometimes, the equipment is defective as designed. In other cases, the equipment may be used with more frequency or for more intensive applications than it was designed to handle.
Even in cases wherein a plaintiff shares some portion of the blame for what happened, a successful claim for damages is still possible. F.S. 768.81 covers issues of contributory fault and comparative negligence. In a case where the claimant shares some responsibility, damages awarded will be diminished proportionately, but not barred entirely.
For example, the operator of a malfunctioning lawn mower may share 40 percent of the blame, and thus would have his total compensation reduced by 40 percent.
Specifically in a product liability action where injuries were caused by a defective product, the judge or jury must consider the fault of all parties responsible when apportioning fault. So, a designer and manufacturer may both be held responsible in a product liability action, though they may hold differing degrees of fault.
Where we tend to see many equipment/machinery malfunction cases is on the job, particularly on construction sites. Some examples include:
- Crane collapses
- Scaffolding collapses
- Power tool malfunctions
- Heavy machinery malfunctions
These individuals may suffer a variety of injuries, including lacerations, broken bones, shocks and burns. The injuries are sometimes catastrophic, resulting in amputation, vision loss, spinal cord damage and even brain damage.
Employees injured on the job are entitled to workers’ compensation coverage through their employer without proof of negligence. However, if the injury was caused by malfunctioning machinery, a third-party product liability lawsuit should be fully explored.
While one might expect construction zones to be hazardous, less obvious dangers may lurk in your own home. For example, Consumer Reports recently reported more than 7,000 people are treated annually for blender injuries, a figure that has tripled in the last 10 years. Meanwhile, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons reports there are an estimated 235,000 adults and 17,000 children injured in the U.S. every year by lawn mowers. Other risks include table and bench saws, which many people keep in garages or storage sheds, resulting in 102,000 injuries annually.
Generally, it’s simpler to prove equipment malfunction in cases where a product is recently purchased or relatively new. The older the product, the more likely defense is to assert improper maintenance or faulty repair caused the malfunction.
Claims of equipment or machinery malfunction involving older products can still succeed, but will require careful consideration, expert witness testimony and an experienced legal team.
If you or a loved one has been injured in Southwest Florida, contact Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. There are no fees or costs unless we win. Offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples and Port Charlotte.
Call 800-646-1210 for a Free Consultation.