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Got A Product Problem? Go To The Origin.

Got a problem? Go to the source. Got a product problem? Go to its origin.

At least that is what Plaintiff Timothy Farkas, and his expert, should have done to avoid dismissal of Farkas’ product liability claims.

In Farkas v. Addition Manufacturing Technologies, LLC, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed an Eastern District of Missouri judgment, finding that Farkas failed to establish that the product at issue, a tube-end forming machine, was inherently defective or dangerous. The Court’s ruling centered on Farkas’ failure to provide evidence of a defect that existed when the product entered the stream of commerce.

Farkas sued Addition Manufacturing after his fingers were severely injured by a tube-end forming machine, which uses a hydraulic clamp to crimp metal tubes. Addition was the machine designer’s successor. The predecessor company sold the machine in 1992 with a point-of-operation guard, which prevented the operator’s fingers from fitting in the clamps that went around the tube to shape the end of the tube when there was a tube in the machine. The specific guard present at the time of sale, however, only applied to a single size of tubing, which was specified by the original customer. The machine, however, was technically capable of crimping multiple sizes of tube. 

Various companies bought and sold the machine over the years. In 2014, Farkas’ employer purchased the machine, whose guard was still configured only for a single size of tubing. Because Farkas’ employer wanted to process multiple sizes of tubing, it hired a company to alter the guard, to accommodate multiple sizes of tube. Farkas was subsequently injured when he used the machine to crimp a piece of tube that was smaller than the guard.

Farkas brought his lawsuit against Addition for strict liability for the product’s design defect and failure to warn about the defect and for negligently manufacturing the product.   Addition, as the legal successor to the manufacturer who made the machine in its original configuration, moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Farkas was required to and failed to provide evidence that the original guard on the machine was inadequate at the time of the machine’s initial sale.

To succeed on the strict liability claim for product defect, Farkas had to offer proof that:

  1. The machine was in an unreasonably defective condition when put to a reasonably anticipated use;
  2. The machine was used in a manner reasonably anticipated; and
  3. The machine was damaged as a direct result of such defective condition as existed when the product was sold.

To succeed on a strict liability failure-to-warn claim, Farkas had to prove that:

  1.  Addition sold the machine in question in the course of its business;
  2. The machine was unreasonably dangerous at the time of sale when used as reasonably anticipated without knowledge of its characteristics;
  3. Addition did not give adequate warning of the danger;
  4. The machine was used in a reasonably anticipated manner; and
  5. Farkas was damaged as a direct result of the machine being sold without an adequate warning.

The common link? Both claims require Farkas to go back to the machine’s (and the guard’s) beginnings. Farkas’ expert, however, relied on the wrong guard on the machine. Indeed, the expert relied on the guard present at the time of the injury, not the guard present at the time Addition’s predecessor sold the machine in 1992. As such, there was no evidence of the original guard’s appropriateness and relevant industry standards.

In other words, Farkas was required to offer proof that the machine was defective or dangerous at the time of sale by the predecessor of Addition to the original customer – not at the time of the sale to Farkas’ employer or the time of Farkas’ injury.  However, Farkas’ failure to go back to the machine’s origin cost him his lawsuit and his appeal.