Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Why Ikea Is Not Legally Liable For 6 Deaths of Children

Products liability requires that products be used in their intended manner

The tragic deaths of six children due to a certain type of dresser from Ikea falling over, are regrettable. No parent ever quite overcomes the death of a child. My own mother lost a 4 year old daughter to a tragic car crash before I was born; she would cry every year on the anniversary for the rest of her life. But tragedy and legal liability are different things.

Swedish furniture kit maker IKEA Group recalled 36 million chests sold at their North American stores. They have been linked to the deaths of six children, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said on Tuesday.

U.S. CPSC said in a statement, that the dressers tip over when the drawers are all open, unless the chests are secured to a wall. The recall covers six models of MALM chests or dressers manufactured from 2002 to 2016, as well as about 100 other families of chests or dressers, it said.

When used in the intended manner, no product should cause harm or injury to the consumer. Otherwise, the manufacturer is "strictly liable" in court and must compensate the consumer for any provable damages or losses.

On the other hand, n a products liability case, it is axiomatic that the product must be used in the manner intended by the manufacturer. Otherwise, he is not liable for its misuse. To create and extreme example, if you use a door to pull a tooth, by tying the tooth to the bumper, the manufacturer is not liable for the result. It is not an intended, or even a reasonably foreseeable use.

Ikea clearly told the consumer to anchor the dresser to the wall, and even provided instructions and equipment for doing so.

"At trial, the issue will be, was the product used in its intended manner," said Trial Attorney Scott Schutzman. "The Manufacturer intended the product to be anchored to the wall with included anchor bolts. Plaintiffs will argue a reasonably foreseeable use of the product is not to install the anchor bolts and the use of the anchor bolts is a jury question. Another related issue is the warnings given, if any on whether the dresser could tumble. If warnings were given of this nature Plaintiffs may have a tough time getting past Summary Judgement," he said.

Section 2 of the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability distinguishes between three major types of product liability claims:manufacturing defect, design defect, and a failure to warn (also known as marketing defects). These are not legal claims in and of themselves, but are plead as negligent failure to warn or strict liability for defective design.

Manufacturing defects are those that occur in the manufacturing process and usually involve poor-quality materials or shoddy workmanship.

Design defects occur where the product design is inherently dangerous or useless (and hence defective) no matter how carefully manufactured; this may be demonstrated either by showing that the product fails to satisfy ordinary consumer expectations as to what constitutes a safe product, or that the risks of the product outweigh its benefits.

Failure-to-warn defects arise in products that carry inherent non-obvious dangers which could be mitigated through adequate warnings to the user, and these dangers are present regardless of how well the product is manufactured and designed for its intended purpose.

There is no evidence that Ikea failed to warn here. In fact the chests were sold with huge warnings, it was impossible for parents not to encounter them in the course of setting up the furniture.

In John Grisham's novel The Rainmaker, the protagonist is the son of a ladder manufacturer who drinks himself to death because he has been sued so many time. No matter how many warnings his dad put on the ladder, people would use it wrong, go up to the top of the ladder, and fall over. Get injured and sue. So his son becomes a personal injury lawyer

I suppose Grisham's point is, there are two sides to every story. Ikea's side will come out in a summary judgment motion, when Ikea's lawyers move to have the parents' personal injury suits thrown out of court. Don't be surprised when they win.


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