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How Industry Standards Apply to Product Liability Cases

There are many ways to prove negligence in a product liability case. For instance, a manufacturer can be held liable for “negligent design,” where there is a defect inherent in the property’s design. This does not mean, however, a product must be 100 percent safe or incapable of injuring someone. Rather, Tennessee courts look at whether a design significantly deviates from “the standard of care applicable to members of that profession.” In other words, if the industry standard holds a product should have certain safety features, and a defendant’s product does not, that may support a finding of negligent design.

Is an Ice Slide an “Amusement Device”?

But it is important to apply the correct industry standard to a given product, as a recent Tennessee case illustrates. The case involved a negligent design claim against the manufacturer of an “ice slide,” which was part of a larger ice exhibit sponsored by a Nashville resort. The resort hired the defendant to install four such ice slides. Although the defendant was required under its contract to keep a representative on-site to conduct periodic safety inspections, the operation of the slides—including the posting of any safety warnings—remained with the resort.

The plaintiff was a visitor attending the ice exhibit. While walking on the carpeted upper landing of one of the ice slides, the plaintiff’s “feet slipped out from under him and he fell.” The plaintiff suffered serious injuries requiring surgery, and he subsequently sued the resort and the manufacturer of the ice slide.

As relevant here, the plaintiff alleged “negligent design” on the manufacturer’s part with respect to the ice slide. The plaintiff presented expert testimony from an engineer who specialized in designing theme park rides. The expert said the defendant’s ice slide did not meet the safety standards for “amusement devices” published by ASTM International, a well-known international standards organization. Specifically, the expert said ASTM standards required the ice slide to have “a top horizontal hood or guardrail.” as well as “horizontal handrails to assist guests in the transition from standing to sitting.” The defendant’s ice slide did not have these features.

In response, the defendant argued the ASTM standards did not apply here because their ice slides were not considered “amusement devices” under Tennessee law. Indeed, state law only considers a slide an “amusement device” if it is over 20 feet in height; the defendant’s ice slide was no more than 12 feet tall. The plaintiff’s expert responded the ice exhibit “as a whole” should be considered an “amusement device,” and therefore subject to the ASTM standard.

The trial court disagreed and granted the defendant summary judgment on the negligent design issue. “Other than citing inapplicable standards,” the judge concluded, the plaintiff “has not demonstrated how [the defendant] was negligent in designing the slide or handrails.” The plaintiff appealed, but the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the judge’s decision. The appeals court noted the ASTM standard cited by the plaintiff’s expert “plainly indicates that it is applicable to playground equipment, not ice slides.”

Need Help from a Product Liability Lawyer?

Negligent design is only one aspect of a possible product liability claim. If you have been injured due to a defect in a consumer product, you should seek advice from a qualified Tennessee personal injury lawyer right away. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, in Knoxville or Clinton if you need to speak with someone today.

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