In Murray v. Traxxas Corp., the Second District Court of Appeal explains that a plaintiff in a Florida products liability action can still prove his or her case even when the product at issue is not available for inspection.

Plaintiffs’ eleven year old son suffered severe burns when a Top Fuel can exploded as he and his brother tried to start a fire to roast marshmallows. The fuel can, taken from a shed on the boys’ grandparents property, was originally purchased by their uncle for use in a remote controlled model car. Plaintiffs sued Defendants – the companies that designed, produced and sold Top Fuel – asserting that the can’s negligent design caused their son’s injuries. Specifically, the Murrays claim that the can should have been equipped with a “fuel arrestor” in order to prevent the flame-thrower or flashback effect which resulted in the explosion.

A circuit court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment based largely on the fact that Plaintiffs had disposed of the Top Fuel can before filing the suit. As a result, the parties could not run tests on the fuel to determine its condition – nor that of the can itself – at the time of the accident. “Without the can… there’s no proof of [P]laintiffs’ theory of liability, that this can had a flame-thrower or flashback effect,” the circuit court ruled.

On appeal, the Second District reversed the summary judgment ruling, finding that both parties can conduct experiments on similar Top Fuel cans in order to determine whether the one at issue in this case was negligently designed. The court explained that “[t]o prove their action based on negligent design, the Murrays must show that the defendants owed them a duty, that the defendants breached the duty, that the breach was the proximate cause of Brandon’s injuries.”

The condition of both the can and the fuel inside it at the time of the accident relate to the issue of whether Defendants breached a duty to the Murrays via negligence. The court found that the Murrays presented enough circumstantial evidence to indicate that the can contained the original fuel at the time of the accident. Specifically, according to the court, the boys’ uncle “testified that he placed the partially used can of Top Fuel on a shelf in the shed about two years before the accident and that he never used the fuel. Defendants did not present any evidence to counter this testimony. Additionally, because the Murrays’ negligent design claim is based on the undisputed fact that Top Fuel cans were not equipped with fuel arrestors, the court found the fact that the can was not available for inspection did not prevent the Murrays from proving their case. As a result, the court remanded the action to the circuit court for further proceedings.

A defective product can be anything a consumer purchases (automobile parts, medications, children’s toys, child safety seats, etc.) that isn’t safe for its intended use. At Anidjar & Levine, our South Florida defective products lawyers stand ready to help those injured by unsafe products. Call our Fort Lauderdale offices at 800-747-3733 for a free consultation.

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