Obrien v. Muskin Corp Case Brief

Summary of Obrien v. Muskin Corp, S. Ct N.J. [1983]

Design Defects

Relevant Facts: Mr. Henry bought a Muskin pool and assembled it in his backyard. It was 20 x 24 x 4 ft. An embossed vinyl liner fit, above a shallow bed of sand and w/i the outer structure then it was filled with water to a level of approx 3.5 ft. The outer wall bore the manufacturer’s logo and a decal that warned DO NOT DIVE in one inch letters. Obrien arrived uninvited and dove into the pool either from the platform or the adjacent garage roof. His outstretched hands hit the vinyl lined pool bottom, slid apart, and he struck his head on the bottom of the pool.

Legal Issue(s): Whether state-of-the-art evidence is relevant to risk-utility analysis and is admissible in a strict liability case involving a defectively designed product, and whether the trial ct erred by not permitting the jury to consider if the risks of injury outweighed the utility of product if the design of pool, calling for a vinyl bottom in a pool four feet deep, was defective because of dimensions of pool and slipperiness of bottom?

Court’s Holding: Yes and Yes the trial ct erred.

Procedure: The trial ct judgment in favor of dfs, and pl appealed. The Sup Ct, App Div, reversed and remanded; Affirmed as modified.

Law or Rule(s): Pl B o’ P 1) the product was defective; 2) the defect existed when the product left the hands of the df; 3) the defect caused injury to a reasonably foreseeable user. Manufacturer has a duty to warn foreseeable users of the risks inherent, and not placing defect products on the market.

Court Rationale: The necessity of proving a defect as part of Pl’s prima facie case distinguishes strict from absolute liability and prevents the manuf from becoming an insurer. Risk-Utility analysis is appropriate when the product may function satisfactorily under one set of circumstances, yet b/c of its design present undue risk of injury to the user in another situation. R/u analysis includes other factors such as State o’ Art at the time of the manufacture of the product. The SoA refers to the existing level of technological expertise and scientific knowledge relevant to a particular industry at the time of design. SoA does not constitute an absolute Defense apart from R/U. The existence of a safer and equally efficacious design diminishes the justification for using a challenged design. It was not necessary for the Pl to prove the existence of alternative, safer designs. Even if no other alternative methods of making bottoms for above ground pools the jury might have found the risk posed by the pool outweighed its utility. To establish a prima facie case the Pl should adduce sufficient evidence on the R/U factors to establish a defect.

Plaintiff’s Argument: Muskin is strictly liable for his injuries b/c it manuf & marketed a defectively designed pool, i.e.the slippery quality of the pool liner, lack of adequate warning.

Defendant’s Argument: The pool as manufactured utilized the best material available, b/c it served as a safety feature. The pool had adequate warning on the side.

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