The plaintiff purchases a brand-new vacuum cleaner, in its original, sealed packaging. That evening, the plaintiff is preparing dinner by heating some meat in a pan on the stove. The meat needs to cook for several minutes on each side. The plaintiff has cooked in this manner before, and it is normally a safe process that does not require close supervision. While waiting for the meat to cook, the plaintiff decides to test the new vacuum cleaner for a few minutes on the carpet in the adjacent room. Assume that the plaintiff was not negligent in briefly stepping away from the stove.
In operating the vacuum cleaner, the plaintiff accidentally steps on the power cord while pushing the vacuum cleaner forward. This places sudden tension on the connection between the power cord and the vacuum cleaner’s motor. Ordinarily, this would not be a problem, because the connection between the cord and the motor is designed to withstand such an event. However, the plaintiff’s vacuum cleaner contains a manufacturing defect in which the connection is improperly assembled. This causes the power cord to pull away from the motor when the plaintiff steps on the cord.
The dislodged cord causes an electrical short circuit, which in turn starts a fire inside the vacuum cleaner. The fire immediately spreads to the plaintiff’s carpet, and to the nearby sofa. The plaintiff succeeds in putting out the fire, but in the process, the plaintiff suffers extensive burns.
While putting out the fire, the plaintiff has been unable to tend to the food on the stove. Accordingly, the pan remains on the stove for much longer than it should. As the meat cooks, it releases grease into the pan. The pan overheats, and the grease catches fire.
As soon as the plaintiff puts out the fire from the vacuum cleaner, the plaintiff notices the fire on the stove. In a panic, the plaintiff fills a pitcher with water and throws it on the stove in an attempt to extinguish the flames.
The plaintiff does not know that it is extremely dangerous to put water on a grease fire, because the water causes the hot grease to spatter, often over great distances. Thus, when the plaintiff throws water on the fire, the plaintiff is doused with burning grease, which causes extensive, additional burns to the plaintiff’s chest and face.
The plaintiff sues the manufacturer on a theory of strict product liability. The plaintiff seeks to recover for the injuries caused by the initial fire, which began in the vacuum cleaner and spread to the plaintiff’s couch. The plaintiff also seeks to recover for the injuries that the plaintiff incurred while attempting to put out the grease fire.
- Is the manufacturer liable for the injuries resulting from the initial fire? Explain.
- Is the manufacturer liable for the injuries resulting from the grease fire? Explain.