Liriano v. Hobart Corp.
170 F.3d 264 (2d Cir. 1999)
While at his job at Super
Associated, Liriano got his hand caught in a Hobart brand meat grinder.
The machine had been
delivered with a safety guard in place, but Super Associated had removed
the guard. There was no warning on the machine that it should not be
operated without a guard.
Liriano sued Hobart, who
brought a third party (impleader)
lawsuit against Super Associated.
Liriano argued that Hobart
failed to warn him of the danger.
Btw, Liriano sued the
manufacturer because Super Associated was covered by Workers Comp
Statutes couldn't be made to pay for pain and suffering...
The Trial Court found for
Liriano, and attributed blame to all three parties. (comparative
negligence). Super Associated and
Super Associated and Hobart
argued that there was no duty to warn,
and even if there was, there wasn't enough evidence and they should have
won on summary judgment.
Since the Federal Appellate
Court had to apply New York law, they asked (aka certified) two questions to the New York Supreme Court:
Do product manufacturers
have a duty to warn?
What is the evidentiary
standard for meeting that duty?
The New York Supreme Court
responded that there was a duty to warn, but declined to answer whether there was sufficient evidence.
The Federal Appellate Court
The Federal Appellate Court
looked to the case of Lorenzo v. Wirth (170 Mass. 596, 49 N.E. 1010 (1898)) where a person fell in a
hole. The Court in that case basically said that the plaintiff didn't
really need to warn people to not fall into an obvious hole.
Similarly, the Court in
this case found that there probably wasn't a need to warn people to not
stick their hands in meat grinders.
In a dissent it was argued
that even for "obvious" dangers, there are lots of special
considerations, and you can't just dismiss the cases as a matter of law.
There is an element of the fact-finder, no matter how obvious the danger
In this case, there were
numerous facts that made the issue more complicated than,
"don't stick your hand in a meat grinder stupid." For example,
Liriano had only been on the job a week, didn't speak English well, and
had received no instruction on how to use the machine.
This dissent has become the
general standard, and most courts are wary of taking the issue of
liability away from juries.
The basic rule is that
there might still be a duty to warn
even if the danger is clear. That's an issue for a jury to decide on the
facts, and it can't be determined as a matter of law (hence no summary
In a way, you could say that
Hobart's failure to warn people to use the safety guard made the product
defective because the reasonably foreseeable risks of harm could be
reduced by the provision of adequate warning.
On the other hand, based on
the consumer expectations test,
you could say that since thee danger is obvious, how could the product
fail to meet the consumer's expectation for safety?