Pennsylvania’s Middle District Chooses to Apply Restatement Third to Faulty Ladder Case

September 29, 2013

The “state of flux”[1] continued in the landscape of Pennsylvania products liability law, with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania choosing to apply the Restatement Third of Torts to a Plaintiff’s strict liability claims in a matter involving an allegedly defective ladder. This is significant, as almost one year ago the Middle District chose to apply the Restatement Second in a products liability action. [2] The volatile nature of the applicable substantive law in Pennsylvania product liability actions figures to continue until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court renders an Opinion on the applicable substantive law in Tincher v. Omega Flex, 64 A.2d 626.

[1] Sikkelee v. Precision Automotive, 876 F. Supp. 2d 479 (M.D. Pa. 2012)

[2] Id.

In Jackson v. Louisville Ladder, Inc., et. al., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96836, Plaintiff James Jackson was using a Louisville Model AS2106 ‘6 aluminum stepladder in the scope and course of his employment. Plaintiff alleged that when he was standing on subject ladder, it suddenly malfunctioned and collapsed, causing him injuries to his head and cervical spine. Plaintiff subsequently brought three state law causes of action; 1) A negligence claim against Defendant Louisville Ladder; 2) a strict product liability claim against Defendant Louisville Ladder; and 3) a strict product liability claim against Defendant W.W. Grainger. Defendants moved for summary judgment on all three claims.

Plaintiff argued a strict-liability design defect claim against supplier W.W. Grainger, a traditional Restatement Second argument. However, Defendant argued that a “risk utility analysis of the ladder leads to the inescapable conclusion that the ladder is not unreasonably dangerous.” In making such an argument, Defendant assumed the application of the Restatement Third of Torts to Plaintiff’s strict liability claims. This placed the Court in the position of having to apply either the Restatement Second or Restatement Third of Torts. After a brief overview of the progeny of the situation, the Court stated:

“Once the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit predicts how a state’s highest court would resolve an issue, district courts within the circuit are bound by this prediction unless the state supreme court issues a contrary decision or it appears from a subsequent decision of the appellate courts that the court of appeals erred. Because the Third Circuit has made a prediction on this issue, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has not offered a definitive answer, the Court will follow the guidance of the Third Circuit and apply Sections 1 and 2 of the Restatement Third to Plaintiff’s strict liability claims. ”

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District has taken the position that until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules on Tincher, that it is bound by the prediction of the Third Circuit that Pennsylvania will in fact adopt the Restatement Third, and accordingly does the same.

Although the Court applied the Restatement Third of Torts, the Court denied Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment on the strict liability claim, as the Plaintiff had set forth enough evidence that a reasonable alternative design was, or reasonably could have been available at the time of the sale.

The uncertainty of Pennsylvania product liability law will continue until a decision in Tincher is made.

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