A recent Illinois wrongful death case combined both medical malpractice counts and product defect counts. Susan Calles, et al. v. Scipto-Tokai Corp., et al., No. 07 L 4577, was initially dismissed on summary judgment, but was then returned to the trial court by the Illinois Appellate Court. The case has now concluded after reaching a settlement of $3.5 million; $1.5 million for the medical malpractice and $2 million for the product defect.
Calles involves the death of Jillian Calles, a three year-old girl who suffered smoke inhalation as a result of a fire her twin sister caused. The twin was playing with a butane lighter when she accidentally started the fire. The Illinois product defect claim alleged that the lighter design improperly lacked a child-resistant device.
Under product defect liability, a manufacturer may be held liable for a design flaw in its product if that flaw presents a danger to consumers that could have been eliminated. In addition, the danger must be a byproduct of the product’s intended use. For example, if someone becomes injured while balancing a chair on two of its four legs then this would not be the result of a design flaw given that the product was not meant to be used that way.
However, this caveat does not apply in Calles where the twin sister was obviously using the lighter correctly given that she was able to light it. Rather, the estate claims that the design should have prevented the three year-old from being able to use the lighter, period. The specific type of lighter was an Aim N Flame utility lighter manufactured by Scripto-Tokai.