A Primer On New York Product Liability Law

Michael Hoenig’s Product Liability column in The New York Law Journal, “Complexities Abound In Product Design Claims” (January 11, 2010), provides an excellent primer  on the law of product liability in New York state and a good discussion of the leading cases. (NYLJ.com requires a subscription to access. If you cannot download the article, Mr. Hoenig  will post the article within a couple of weeks on his law firm’s web site).   Mr. Hoenig devotes the body of his article to a recent Appellate Division, First Department decision, Chow v. Reckitt & Colman Inc., 2010 NY Slip Op 00013 (App. Div., 1st Dept., Jan. 5, 2010).  There, a split First Department upheld the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendant manufacturer of of a drain cleaner called "Lewis Red Devil Lye", which blinded the plaintiff during an attempt to unclog a floor drain in the kitchen of the restaurant where he worked.  Applying the Court of Appeals standard in Voss v. Black & Decker Manufacturing Co, the court examined the ‘risk-utility balancing’ calculus, which often lies at the heart of a defective design product liability inquiry. In addition to Mr. Hoenig’s “refresher” survey of the law of product design liability, he directs his readers to the commentary issued by the Committee on Pattern Jury Instructions of the Association of Justices of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, particularly PJI 2:120. For further reading, a thoughtful discussion of PJI 2:120 appears in a 2008 article "New  Design-Defect Jury Instructions: Catching ‘Denny’ " by Stephen R. Blacklocks, a partner in Hunton & Wiliams’  New York office.  As Mr. Hoenig states in the conclusion of NYLJ article, “Mastery of the legal principles – our survey merely scratches the surface – is indispensable in perfecting one’s advocacy.”  When your client next assigns you a new case for  you to defend, take a few minutes to review Mr. Hoenig’s primer to remind yourself just how many hurdles plaintiff’s counsel needs to overcome to make out a prima facie case of design defect.