Robyn Williams placed her purse on top of the refrigerator at her family’s apartment. Later, her…

Robyn Williams placed her purse on top of the refrigerator at her family’s apartment. Later, her twoyear-old son, Jerome, managed to pull the purse down. Jerome then retrieved a Cricket disposable butane cigarette lighter from the purse. The lighter lacked any child-resistant feature. Jerome’s fiveyear-old brother, Neil, saw Jerome use the lighter to ignite some linens. As the fire spread throughout the apartment, Neil unsuccessfully attempted to rouse his mother. Neil then made his way to a window and began screaming. A neighbor rescued him, but Robyn, Jerome, and another one of Robyn’s children, Alphonso, died in the fire. Acting as Neil’s guardian and as administrator of the estates of Robyn, Jerome, and Alphonso, Gwendolyn Phillips filed suit against the manufacturersand distributors of the Cricket lighter. Her complaint included strict liability and negligence claims. These claims were predicated on the basic contention that the defendants’ lighter was defectively designed because it did not have childproof features. The defendants moved for summary judgment. Concerning the design defect claim brought on strict liability grounds, the trial court noted that the plaintiff was required to establish that the Cricket lighter was unsafe for its intended use. Observing that “intended use . . . necessarily entails the participation of the intended user” and that a two-year-old child was not the intended user of a cigarette lighter, the trial court concluded that the defendants could not be held strictly liable. In addition, the court reasoned that if a product is found to be nondefective for strict liability purposes, a design defect claim brought on negligence grounds must also fail. Therefore, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Phillips appealed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, the state’s intermediate appellate court. That court reversed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment. The appellate court held that for strict liability purposes, a product must be safe for its intended use—here, to create a flame—when used by any user, whether intended or unintended. Concerning the negligent design claim, the Superior Court concluded that summary judgment had been improperly granted in favor of the defendants because the trial court had made the erroneous assumption that if a strict liability claim for defective design fails, a negligence claim dealing with design issues must also fail. The defendants appealed to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. How did that court rule on the strict liability claim, and how did it rule on the negligent design claim?

 

 

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