Demara v. The Raymond Corp.

Defendant manufacturer of forklift was not entitled to summary judgment in design defect case, since its design included a large open area around the powered wheels, without any guards, which would crush any part of a human they ran over; and this permits an inference that the design fell below minimum safety assumptions of the product’s users and bystanders during its use.  The trial court erred in granting defendant manufacturer of a forklift summary judgment in this design defect products liability case in which the forklift ran over the plaintiff’s foot as he walked by while the forklift was backing up.  The forklift’s design included a large open area around the powered wheels, without any guards.  The wheels would crush any part of a human they ran over.  Defendant did not make a prima facie showing of lack of causation, introducing no evidence to disprove that element of plaintiff’s case but only citing a case for the proposition that the fact an accident happens does not prove the design was defective.  Moreover, plaintiff submitted evidence sufficient to create a triable issue as to causation.  The defendant also failed to show as a matter of law that the consumer expectation test of design defect did not apply.  Though the equipment was complex, the consumer expectation test applies if the circumstances of the equipment’s failure permit an inference the design fell below minimum safety assumptions of ordinary consumers—that is, the product’s users and bystanders during its use.  Here, running over someone’s foot while backing up allows such an inference.  The defendant also failed to shift the burden under the benefit-risk test of design defect because its expert’s declaration merely attested to certain benefits of the design without mentioning risks or weighing them against the benefits or against other alternative designs.

California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, Division 1 (Aaron, J.); June 21, 2017; 2017 WL 3038160

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