Earlier this month, an appellate court issued an opinion affirming a lower court’s granting of the defendant’s motion for judgment as a matter of law in a product liability case surrounding an allegedly defective smoke detector. In the case, Hosford v. BRK Brands, the court ultimately held that the plaintiffs’ failure to show that a “safer, practical, alternative design” was available for the defendant to use in the manufacturing process was fatal to the plaintiffs’ claim.
The plaintiffs were the surviving family members of a young girl who died when the family’s mobile home caught fire. According to the facts section of the appellate opinion, an electrical malfunction caused a slow smoldering fire to start in the family’s mobile home. The parents of the young girl were awakened when one of the two smoke detectors they had installed went off. The parents were able to safely rescue their nine-month-old son, who was sleeping in the room with them, but they were unable to rescue their nine-year-old daughter. The daughter died in the fire.
The plaintiff filed a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the smoke detector, arguing that the technology used in the unit was not effective at providing an early warning during slow smoldering fires. Under the applicable law, in order to succeed in their claim, the plaintiffs needed to prove that there was a “safer, practical, alternative design” that the defendant could have used to manufacture the smoke detector. The plaintiffs pointed to another type of technology that is available and is more effective at detecting early signs of a slow smoldering fire.