Case Example: When a Defective Product Causes a Construction Accident
Not all cases are clear cut, and Straub vs. Cherne Industries is one such example. In 2002, a jury awarded a $4 million verdict to Douglas Straub, a construction worker injured on the job, and $500,000 to his wife. Then, the case was appealed and reversed. Finally, on remand, the verdict was allowed to stand. The main issue? Was the plaintiff injured due to negligence or a defective product?
Straub, a construction worker, was installing sewer pipe at a job site in Chester County, using a 36-inch inflatable Muni-ball Pillow Plug manufactured by Cherne, a commercial plumbing product manufacturer. The plug was outfitted with a pressure gauge that indicated the level of inflation. Too little air would prevent the plug from adequately sealing the pipe, and too much air might cause it to explode. The one-month-old plug Straub was using was not working and gave no warning when exploded, breaking bones in his face and arms, causing herniated discs, serious knee injuries and closed-head injuries.
The question at hand was whether Cherne was negligent in failing to test the product in the field, or was the product defective? Here’s how it played out:
A jury ruled in favor of Straub, determining that the plug was not defective but that the defendant was negligent in that the product lacked adequate warnings (including an outdated instruction manual that was written before the plug was even invented).
The Superior Court of Pennsylvania reversed that ruling, saying the verdict was inconsistent (that a company cannot negligently sell a non-defective product), and entered a verdict in favor of the defendant.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to review, and reversed the ruling of the Superior Court, reinstating Straub’s verdict, with instruction to the Superior Court to review the remaining appellate issues.
After remand back to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, a panel reconsidered the review on procedural grounds, and the original verdict for Straub was held in its entirety.
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