Sunday, April 20, 2008

Getting Burnt in Texas: Supreme Court Reverses Jury Verdict for Burn Victim in Product Liability Suit

Bic Pen Corp. v. Carter (Tex. 2008)

Justice Medina writes that federal consumer safety standards bar burnt child from recovering on faulty design claim under Texas common law

Texas Supreme Court holds that federal law implicitly preempts Texas common law tort claim in case in which child sustained third-degree burns on 55% of her body when another child set fire to her dress with a cigarette lighter. Jury awarded several million dollars in damages against manufacturer of the device. Court finds that product design was sufficiently child-proof because it had passed federal standards and state should not be permitted to set more exacting standards through its tort law.
(Federal standards mandate that at least 85 percent of children under age five must be unable to operate disposable lighters.) Texas Supreme Court further suggests that balancing of interests should not be left to the jury which may be more sympathetic to burn victims in individual cases and may not appreciate the countervailing interests of convenience and market acceptance of the cigarette lighter.

The opinion, which also remands an alternative theory of recovery (manufacturing defect) to the court of appeals for closer scrutiny, was written by Justice David M. Medina, himself a recent burn victim, although the exact cause of the fire that burned down the family home (causing only property damage) remains shrouded in mystery and suspicion.

Bic Pen Corp. v. Carter, No. 05-0835 (Tex. Apr. 18, 2008) (Medina) (products liability, design defect claim,
implicit federal preemption of state tort law, manufacturing defect claim)
Matagorda County; 13th district (13-03-00560-CV, 171 S.W.3d 657, 08-18-05)
The Court reverses the court of appeals' judgment and remands the case to that court.
Justice Medina delivered the opinion of the Court. (Justice Green not sitting)

The Court disapproves the holding that federal law only sets a minimum safety standard and does not grant manufacturers immunity from state common law claims in opinion by Justice Dori Contreras Garza in the court of appeals below: Bic Pen Corp. v. Carter, No. 13-03-00560-CV (Tex. App. - Corpus Christi, Apr. 18, 2008, pet. filed) ("concluding that "the plaintiff's design-defect claim is not an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of any federal objectives regarding disposable lighters. Any rule of law created by the claim would be in harmony with existing federal standards and further the federal objectives, even if its net effect would be to make lighters safer for children. Accord Colon v. BIC USA, Inc., 136 F. Supp. 2d 196, 208 (S.D.N.Y. 2000) (A[I]t is difficult to construe these [federal] regulations as anything but a mandatory minimum standard with which all manufacturers or importers [of disposable lighters] must comply. By no means, however, should compliance with this minimum standard automatically relieve a manufacturer or importer of state common law liability.")

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's the worst piece of raw judicial activism I've seen in a while.

Medina deliberately ignores the savings clause!

He's either corrupt or a moron.

Besides, isn't there some kind of conflict of interest letting an arsonist write new laws which hurt burn victims and help the lighter industry?