A recent Illinois Appellate court decision on a product liability claim reviewed the elements needed to prove strict liability in an Illinois product liability claim. In Charles Salerno v. Innovative Surveillance Technology, Inc., No. 1-09-1402, the plaintiff appealed the trial court’s decision to grant the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s decision, but for different reasons.
The basis of the product liability claims in Salerno are centered around an injury the plaintiff sustained while working in a surveillance cargo van manufactured by the defendant. The van contained a video periscope system. The plaintiff’s injury occurred when he tried to stand inside the cargo van and struck his head on the metal periscope. According to the plaintiff’s product liability complaint, his severe head trauma and resulting seizures could have been avoided if the defendant’s product had not been unreasonably dangerous and defective.
The trial court granted the defendant manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the risk of being harmed by the periscope was open and obvious and that the defendant had no duty to protect the plaintiff from any resulting injuries.
Upon review, the Appellate Court was critical of the trial court’s reason for dismissing the Illinois product defect lawsuit. In a prior decision the Illinois Supreme Court decided that a product’s open and obvious risk of harm does not constitute an absolute defense in a strict liability count. While this defense may be considered as part of the risk-utility analysis it can not constitute the only factor.
The risk-utility analysis involves reviewing a given product’s design and analyzing whether the risk of harm from the relevant defect outweigh its utility. If there is more risk involved then it is considered dangerous and the manufacturer is liable for any resulting harm.
In reviewing Salerno the Appellate Court set out very specific rules to evaluate a product’s dangerousness:
(1) That the manufacturer deviated from the standard of care that other manufacturers in the industry followed at the time the product was designed, or
(2) knew or should have known, in the exercise of ordinary care, that the product was unreasonably dangerous and that it failed to warn of the product’s dangerous propensity.
Upon reviewing the case, the Appellate Court found that the plaintiff had stated he had “nothing to criticize” in the defendant’s design and had not brought any expert testimony to testify on what the design defect was and how it could or should have been altered. Therefore the plaintiff had not established any basis for his Illinois product liability claim so the defendant could not be held liable for any failure to warn.
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