Michael Goldman Wins Defense Verdict in Product Liability Trial
Michael Goldman received a defense verdict in a product liability case in Rockingham County, New Hampshire. It was a hard fought and expert-intensive case involving a 49 year-old local schoolteacher who caught her ankle-length poly-cotton chenille robe on fire.
Plaintiff contended the robe was defective for several reasons including fabric selection, garment design, ease of ignition, excessive rate of flame spread, difficulty of extinguishment and extrication and lack of flammability warnings. Plaintiff was very sympathetic and sustained severe injuries. She sustained both 3rd and 4th degree burns to more than 50% of her body, including her face, head, chest, arms, hands and back. Plaintiff was treated by prominent burn surgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital who offered compelling testimony on her behalf. In closing arguments, Plaintiff’s attorney asked the jury to render a $49 million verdict.
The defense presented expert testimony showing that the robe was designed reasonably. In particular, the defense showed that the robe ignited and burned in a manner generally consistent with other raised fiber surface garments and that it met federal standard requirements regarding flammability for general wearing apparel. Plaintiff’s experts were highly critical of the standard, claiming it was outdated and unrealistic. Plaintiff also argued that the standard tested only small strips of fabrics and therefore did not adequately predict the hazards of full-cover garments. Plaintiff claimed it was unreasonable for a manufacturer of robes of this type to rely on the standard.
The defense showed that the clothing flammability standard was not intended to prevent the possibility of clothing fires, but rather, intended to ensure that “dangerously flammable” garments were kept off of the market. Thus, the defense showed that its compliance with the standard meant that the garment was reasonably safe. Moreover, the defense showed that clothing fire warning tags were not in general use at the time the garment was made (1995), and that even today, warning tags are generally not found in adult apparel because the public already recognizes the need to avoid clothing contact with high heat sources.
The jury ultimately rejected the testimony of Plaintiff’s warnings expert who claimed that the “specific and unique” fire hazards of this robe required a permanent and conspicuous warning label. After seven hours of deliberations, the jury returned a complete defense verdict.