News & Updates

Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind: Manufacturers Have No Post-Sale Duty To Warn In Illinois June 6, 2012

The highest court in Illinois has recently handed a significant victory to product manufacturers on the issue of manufacturers’ duty to warn consumers of product defects discovered after the product has left the their control.

In Jablonski v. Ford Motor Co., 955 N.E.2d 1138, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed a $43 million jury verdict against Ford Motor Company stemming from a fatal motor vehicle accident.  John and Dora Jablonski were stopped at a stop sign in a 1993 Lincoln Town Car when it was struck by another vehicle.  During the impact, a pipe wrench located in the trunk of the Town Car punctured the car’s fuel tank causing it to burst into flames.  Mr. Jablonski was killed and Mrs. Jablonski sustained severe burns.

The plaintiffs brought suit against Ford Motor Company alleging negligent design of the 1993 Lincoln Town Car.  The Supreme Court, in dismissing the jury verdict on the negligent design claims, held that the unrebutted evidence established that Ford complied with and even exceeded the industry standard set for fuel system integrity.  Of particular note, however, was the Court’s discussion regarding fourth theory presented by the plaintiffs: that Ford Motor Company was negligent in failing to inform the Jablonskis of certain remedial measures taken by Ford after the manufacture of the vehicle but prior to the accident.  Ford had developed a “trunk pack” for a different type of vehicle a decade after the sale of 1993 Lincoln Town Car which purported to address the fuel tank puncture issue.

The Illinois Supreme Court held that Ford was under no common law duty to issue a post-sale warning or to retrofit its products to remedy defects first discovered after the product has left its control.  The trial court erred in imposing a duty to warn upon Ford in the absence of a finding that Ford knew or should have known that the product was unreasonably dangerous at the time of its sale.

In effect, in Illinois, there is no duty imposed upon a manufacturer to warn consumers of product defects discovered after the product has left their control.  Though this is the law in a number of jurisdictions, product manufacturers must be aware that other jurisdictions do impose such a duty.  For example, in New York, a manufacturer may have a duty to warn of dangers associated with the use of its product even after it has been sold.  See Liriano v. Hobart Corporation, 92 N.Y.2d 232 (1998).  This duty will generally arise when a defect or danger is revealed by user operation and brought to the attention of the manufacturer.

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