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Chow v. Reckitt & Colman, Inc.

Court of Appeals of New York
950 N.E.2d 113 (2011)


Facts

Yun Tung Chow (plaintiff) worked at a restaurant in New York City. Whenever a drain in the restaurant kitchen became clogged, Chow used a product called Red Devil Lye (RDL), which consisted of 100 percent lye, to unclog it. RDL was made and packaged by Reckitt & Colman, Inc. (R&C) (defendant). Chow did not read English and, consequently, never read the directions for RDL. Those directions stated (1) that protective eyewear and gloves should be worn while using the product, (2) that RDL should not come into contact with aluminum, and (3) that RDL should be applied by placing one tablespoon thereof directly into the clogged drain, waiting 30 minutes, then flushing the drain with several cups of cold water. Chow used the product by following what he had seen others do: he combined one spoonful of RDL with one cup of water, then poured the combination down the drain. On the date of Chow’s injury, the drain became clogged. Chow placed about three spoonfuls of RDL into a dry aluminum container, added three cups of cold water, and then poured the mixture into the drain. The solution splashed back into Chow’s face, causing serious burns and ultimately the loss of vision in one eye. Chow and his wife (plaintiff) sued R&C in a New York state court, alleging inadequate failure to warn and defective design. R&C moved for summary judgment, relying upon Chow’s mishandling of the product and an attorney’s affirmation that (1) RDL was widely known to be dangerous and (2) any change to its formulation would result in a different product. The trial court granted summary judgment to R&C, and the Appellate Division affirmed. The Chows appealed the judgment with respect to the design-defect claim.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Lippman, C.J.)

Concurrence (Smith, J.)

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