Hardware Retailer Wins Major Appellate Decision in Ohio Product Liability Action
Case Study

Hardware Retailer Wins Major Appellate Decision in Ohio Product Liability Action

March 13, 2018

An Ohio hardware retailer received a resounding decision in the state’s Second District Court of Appeals affirming a full defense summary judgment and definitively closing the door on a bundle of negligence claims demanding over half a million in recovery.

The case arose from an accident on September 8, 2013, in which the plaintiff was badly burned, disfigured, and severely and permanently injured when he ignited an explosive brush fire with Coleman’s Camp Fuel that he had purchased from the insured. In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the insured had failed to properly advise him with respect to the fuel; failed to properly train their sales staff regarding the product, its intended uses, and how to respond to customers seeking to buy products; and failed to warn the plaintiff regarding the dangers of using a product such as Coleman Camp Fuel which was not appropriate to be used to start fires. He sought recovery of $500,000 in damages and attorney’s fees from the insured. 

After Judge Nick A. Selvaggio granted a full defense summary judgment in the Court of Common Pleas Champaign, the plaintiff appealed. Lisa M. Conforti, a partner in the Chicago office, handled the appeal and oral argument. The Second District Court of Appeals, under a de novo review standard, independently reviewed the record and arguments of counsel to determine whether summary judgment was appropriate. After multiple briefs and oral argument, essentially overhauling the defense of the underlying case, Lisa was able to show that the plaintiff’s claims were barred by the Ohio Products Liability Act (OPLA), which abrogates the recovery of damage in all common law claims relating to product liability causes of actions seeking to recover compensatory damages from a manufacturer or supplier for death, physical injury, emotional distress, or damage to property other than the product in question. The court agreed and concluded that the plaintiff’s claims for negligence, negligent failure to warn, and negligent misrepresentation were “product liability claims” subject to OPLA.

The court also agreed with us and opined that the insured could not be liable for breach of warranty, holding that the plaintiff’s claims for express and implied warranty were similarly abrogated by OPLA. The plaintiff had contended that the insured had breached both express and implied warranties, including the warranty that the product was suitable for its intended use. The court concurred with our argument that the allegations set forth in the complaint made no reference expressly or implicitly to the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), its codification in Ohio, or the sections under which the warranty claim was being pursued. Rather the plaintiff merely asserted his warranty claims in a conclusory fashion. Thus, the court opined that the plaintiff’s breach of express and implied warranties claims, to the extent that he was suing under common law theories of product liability, were also abrogated by OPLA.