Illinois Product Defect Case Reviewed By Illinois Appellate Court: Lower Court Ruling on Product Defect-Chain of Distribution Reversed

An Illinois product defect case was reviewed by the Illinois Appellate Court to determine whether the Illinois trial court had erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant transporter company. In Graham v. Bostrom Seating, Inc., et al., No. 5-08-0409, the Illinois Appellate Court evaluated issues of whether the transporting company was involved in the distribution of the defective truck and thereby whether they could be held liable for the Illinois defective product lawsuit.

Graham involves a plaintiff who was injured in an International truck that was equipped with a defective seat. The truck involved in the case was owned by the defendant, Cassens Transport Company. In Graham, the plaintiff alleged that Cassens was liable for the the defective seat under Illinois product liability principles because the company served as a distributor and seller of the truck.

The plaintiff’s liability claims revolved around their claims that Cassens “was in a position to make the truck reasonably safe,” and was “aware at all times . . . of the defects and/or potential for injury arising from the placement of the truck in question into the stream of commerce.” The plaintiff further alleged that Cassens profited directly from the truck’s sale, or by channeling of savings for profits to its affiliated corporations or its board of directors/stockowners.

In response to plaintiff’s allegations, Cassens filed a motion for summary judgment in the Illinois product defect case, which essentially calls for a trial judge to rule that the evidence in the case supports a ruling in one’s favor, even if that evidence is considered in the most positive light towards the other party.

Cassens motion for summary judgment contended that it had only a passive role in purchasing the truck in question and that it had only facilitated the purchase. As a facilitator, Cassens claimed that it could not be considered a seller of this product and that therefore Cassens would not be liable under a warranty theory. Furthermore, Cassens stated that it did not have possession of the truck and therefore had no knowledge as to its condition or of the condition of the seat in question.

The trial court granted the summary judgment motion finding that Cassens wasn’t in the chain of distribution. On appeal, the plaintiff argued under Hammond v. North America Asbestos Corp., 97 Ill.2d 195 (1983), that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether Cassens was in the chain of distribution.

The plaintiff supported their appeal with evidence that Cassens ordered the truck, acquired title to the truck, and sold the truck. Cassens responded to these allegations by arguing that strict liability could only be assessed against those defendants who satisfy the policy considerations that lie beneath the strict-liability doctrine.

In Hammond, the Illinois Supreme Court held that in a product-liability action, “all persons in the distributive chain are liable for injuries resulting from a defective product, including suppliers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers.” If this is applied to Graham, then the Appellate Court must consider whether Cassens falls into these categories.

Upon review of Graham, the Appellate Court found that the record showed a certificate of origin from International for the truck that named Cassens as the purchaser with an invoice from International reflecting that Cassens was the buyer of the truck. There was also an invoice from Cassens indicating that it had sold the truck to Cassens Transport two months later.

Based on the record, the appeals court said that there was conflicting evidence as to whether Cassens was “engaged in the business” of selling vehicle-hauler trucks. The court held that “because genuine issues of material fact exist about whether Cassens & Sons was within the distribution chain for the sale of (the truck), the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment.” This means that the trial judge’s ruling was overturned and the Illinois product defect case will be returned to the lower court for trial.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois product defect lawsuits for over 30 years, serving those areas in and around Cook County, including Niles, Orland Park, Blue Island, and Hoffman Estates.

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