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Hernandez v. Tokai Corp.

Supreme Court of Texas
2 S.W.3d 251 (1999)


Facts

Two-year-old Ruben Hernandez was severely burned when his older sister took a disposable butane lighter from the purse belonging to her mother, Gloria Hernandez (plaintiff), and started a fire. On Ruben’s behalf, Hernandez (plaintiff) filed a negligence and strict products liability suit in federal district court against the manufacturer of the lighter, Tokai Corporation (Tokai) (defendant), and the lighter’s distributor, Scripto-Tokai Corporation (defendant), claiming that the lighter was defectively designed and unreasonably dangerous because it did not have a child-resistant safety mechanism that would have prevented or reduced the likelihood that a child could use it to start a fire. Tokai conceded that such safety mechanisms were theoretically available when the lighter was designed and sold and that they could have been incorporated at nominal cost. Nevertheless, Tokai moved for summary judgment arguing that the company had no duty to incorporate the child-resistant features into a lighter’s design to protect unintended users, namely children, from the obvious and inherent dangers of butane lighters. Tokai further noted that warnings against access by children were provided with the lighters. Hernandez countered that because an alternative design existed at the time the lighters were sold it was for a jury to decide whether the lighter was defective under Texas’s common law risk-utility test. The district court granted Tokai’s motion for summary judgment. Hernandez appealed. The court of appeals certified a question to the Supreme Court of Texas: whether, under the state’s products liability statute a disposable butane lighter intended for adult use may be found to be defectively designed if it lacks a child-resistant mechanism.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Hecht, J.)

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  • A “yes” or “no” answer to the question framed in the issue section;
  • A summary of the majority or plurality opinion, using the CREAC method; and
  • The procedural disposition (e.g. reversed and remanded, affirmed, etc.).

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