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Products Liability Claim Against Manufacturer of Massachusetts Fire Truck Fails for Lack of Expert Testimony – King v. Pierce Manufacturing, Inc.

A policeman stares down the street at a firetruck attending to an emergency inside a building on Hintington Ave.When someone is hurt because of a malfunctioning or dangerous product, he or she is entitled to seek damages via a product liability lawsuit. Possible defendants in such cases include the manufacturer that made the item, the distributor that shipped it, and the retailer that sold it. Most product liability cases involve allegations that there was a defective design, a manufacturing defect, or a failure to warn.

Regardless of the choice of defendant or the theory of liability, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove the dangerousness or defectiveness of the product at issue by a preponderance of the evidence. In all but the most obvious cases, this involves the testimony of an expert witness.

The Facts of the Case

In the recent case of King v. Pierce Manufacturing, Inc., the plaintiff was the administrator of a woman who died two days after being struck by the nozzle of a loose hose on a passing fire truck in January 2010. The woman was standing on the median of a road in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the time of the accident. The administrator filed suit in state court against the defendant manufacturer,  asserting claims for breach of warranty, negligent design, and wrongful death.

The fire truck at issue was a custom truck that was built by the manufacturer according to the specifications of the Cambridge Fire Department. These specifications included the length and width of the hose storage area, the hose capacity, and the materials used. The department also provided specifications for the hose bed covers.

Proceedings in the Lower Court

The manufacturer removed the case to the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts and moved for summary judgment. The district court granted the motion, ruling that expert testimony was necessary to the administrator’s case because, without such, the jury would not be able to determine the cause of the accident.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the suit. The court found that the administrator’s failure to provide expert testimony to support his claim prior to the deadline set by the district court was fatal to his product liability lawsuit. In so holding, the court rejected the administrator’s argument that a jury could have found, based on lay knowledge only, that the fire truck’s lack of hose restraints constituted a design defect that exposed pedestrians to an unreasonable risk of injury.

The court noted that Massachusetts product liability actions sounding in negligent design and breach of warranty require proof of a design defect or an unreasonably dangerous condition. While there is occasionally a defect that is so obvious that it does not require expert testimony, the administrator’s allegations in this case fell squarely within the rule that the presence or absence of a defect cannot typically be inferred without expert testimony. The court found that the matter was further complicated by the fact that the manufacturer had offered various hose-restraint options, but the fire department chose not to order them. An average juror would not have known who bore responsibility for ensuring that the truck was equipped with adequate restraints.

To Ask an Experienced Massachusetts Product Liability Lawyer if You Have a Case

Dangerous products are all around us. It seems that every day there is a new recall of a vehicle, toy, or food product. Of course, many defective or dangerous products are never recalled, and it certainly is not a requirement that a manufacturer admit that there is an issue before suit can be filed in a products liability case. To speak to a knowledgeable Cape Cod injury lawyer about whether you may have reason to file suit for an injury caused by a bad product, call the Law Firm of John C. Manoog, III at 888-262-6664. We have offices in Hyannis and Plymouth and can meet with you in your home or hospital room, if need be.

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