IS STATISTICAL EVIDENCE REQUIRED TO PRESENT A PRODUCT LIABILITY CLAIM?
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.
Kopja v. Genie Co., No. 215009, 2001 WL 721385 (Feb. 27, 2001 Mich. Ct. App. 2001).
This case addresses the following issues:
Can an individual be certified as an expert on types of knots?
Is statistical evidence required to present a product liability claim?
This case deals with two evidentiary issues regarding a plaintiff’s claim for injuries resulting from a defective product. Id. at 1. The court determined that the mechanical engineer that testified on Plaintiff’s behalf could and was properly established as an expert concerning knots. Id. Second, statistical evidence is not an absolute bar to a product liability claim, but, as was the case here, a plaintiff must show that the risk was known or should have been known, and statics are the best way to do so. Id.
In this case, Plaintiff was injured arising from a malfunctioning garage door. Id. The door was closing, using its automatic lift, when the door jammed. Id. Plaintiff properly pulled the emergency release cord to stop the jammed door. Id. This release was comprised of a length of cord and a knob attached the end by a single knot. Id. When Plaintiff pulled on the cord, the knob pulled over the knot and came free from the cord unexpectedly. Id. This caused Plaintiff to fall, injuring his back. Id. The Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff could not prove that emergency release was defective because his expert was not qualified to opine about the sufficiency of the knot used and that Plaintiff had not shown Defendant knew or should have known about the danger posed by any defect. Id.
The court began by noting that under Michigan’s standard for qualifying an expert, which is identical to the Federal rule, an individual could be an expert on several, seperate things. Id. Thus, the fact that Plaintiff’s expert could also testify based upon his wider knowledge of mechanical engineering did not preclude him for also being qualified to testify about the sufficiency of knots. Id. The expert had established that he possessed sufficient knowledge regarding knots and their use in such devices, to properly testify as an expert. Id.
However, the expert was not enough to help Plaintiff survive summary judgment. Id. at 2. A plaintiff, under Michigan law, must establish that a manufacturer knew or should have known of the danger posed by a defect. Id. Plaintiff had not produced any evidence showing that Defendant should have known that the type of knot used posed a great risk. Id. The court found that the fact that better, safer knots existed, standing alone, could not demonstrate this fact. Id. Instead, a plaintiff needs to present some sort of evidence establishing the “magnitude of the risk in terms of the design,” which would often include statistics about how often this defect would result in a failure of the device. Id. The court noted that such statistics were not the only means of proving this, and “failure to conform to industry standards or government regulations” would also be compelling evidence. Id. However, no such evidence existed here and thus, Defendant was entitled to summary judgment. Id.