DOES COMPARATIVE FAULT APPLY TO “STRICT LIABILITY” CASES?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Deines v. Vermeer Mfg. Co., 755 F.Supp. 350 (D. Kan. 1990).
This case addresses the following issue:
Does the doctrine where both the plaintiff and defendant are at fault apply to strict liability and negligence theory?
This case explored the issue of whether the doctrine where both the plaintiff and defendant were at fault applied to strict liability and negligence theory. In exploring this issue, the court concluded that this doctrine does apply to both strict liability and negligence theory. Id. at 354.
On October 30, 1986, the plaintiff was injured when his right arm was drawn into the compression rollers of a hay baler. Id. at 351. The hay baler in question was produced by the defendant, an equipment manufacture. Id. Prior to the injury, the plaintiff got off his tractor to determine why hay was not being properly fed into the baler. Id. After further inspection, the plaintiff noticed that a mass of hay was gathered in front of the baler’s compression rollers and he was later injured after his arm was drawn into the compression rollers. Id. The plaintiff contended that inadequate warnings on the hay baler contributed to his injuries and that there should have been warnings stating that the baler took in material faster than an operator could let it go and that personal injury could result upon contact with the compression rollers. Id. at 352. On the other hand, the defendant stated that the warnings were adequate and the plaintiff would not have been injured if he had followed the warnings that existed on the baler at the time of the accident. Id. The defendants felt so strongly that they were in the right that they asked the court to drop the case without a trial. Id.
The defendant argued that the plaintiff’s claims must fail because the plaintiff’s fault in the incident was greater than the fault of the defendants. Id. at 354. The defendant relied on the rule of law that stated that a plaintiff seeking damages in a situation where both the plaintiff and defendant were at fault prevented recovery of damages where the plaintiff’s fault was greater than the combined fault of all the defendants’ faults. Id. In determining whether this argument was good enough to drop the case without a trial, the court stated that in Kansas, the doctrine where both the plaintiff and defendant were both at fault in an incident applied to both strict liability claims and to those claims based on a negligence theory. Id. Since this case involved negligence, the court noted that whether a defendant’s conduct in a negligence case was the cause of the injury was normally a question of fact for the jury. Id. Also, the court indicated that occasions were extremely rare where a court was justified in taking the case away from a jury. Id. However, the court did state that they would take the case away from a jury when all of the evidence upon which a party relied was undisputed and susceptible of only one interpretation. Id.
Since this was a negligence case where both the plaintiff and defendant were at fault and since there was disputed evidence, the court determined that they would deny the defendant’s request to drop the case without a trial. Id. The court did not feel like they were justified in taking the case away from the jury and wanted the jury to make a decision on the case. Id.