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Federal District Court in Tennessee Denies Summary Judgment to Maker of Blanket that Allegedly Caused Fire Due to Product Defect

An east Tennessee product liability case may involve multiple defendants and various theories of liability. In many cases, both the manufacturer and the seller of the product are named as defendants, and sometimes there are other potentially liable parties as well. Legal theories may include a design flaw that affected a great many products, or there may be an allegation that a manufacturing defect affected only a few products. Failure to warn may also be asserted.

As the case develops toward trial, it is possible that some defendants and/or legal theories may be eliminated through a process known as “summary judgment.” When a court grants summary judgment, it is essentially saying that a particular defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on one or more of the claims asserted by the plaintiff. Summary judgment does not necessarily end the plaintiff’s case, however, as there may still be viable legal theories remaining against a defendant (or multiple defendants) that have not been dismissed from the case.

Facts of the Case

In a recent federal district court case, the plaintiffs sought to assert a product liability action against the defendants, whom they alleged negligently designed and/or manufactured a heated throw blanket that allegedly caused a fire in the plaintiffs’ home in 2018, resulting in both personal injuries and property damage. As evidence of their claim, the plaintiffs submitted video surveillance footage showing, first, a bright flash from an area around the blanket’s control, and, over five hours later, additional flashes, smoke, and, eventually, a fire.
The manufacturing defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that the plaintiffs had abused the blanket by violating at least four warnings contained in the user manual that came with the product. The plaintiffs, in turn, insisted that the fire resulted from a defective control unit, not from any actions or inactions on their part. The manufacturing defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which the plaintiffs opposed.

The District Court’s Decision

The United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division, denied the manufacturing defendant’s motion for summary judgment. After viewing the evidence, facts, and inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff (as the party opposing the motion), the court found that there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether the blanket’s control was unreasonably dangerous or defective. The court based its opinion on various affidavits and deposition testimony, experts’ opinions, and physical evidence. This included both the surveillance video and the fire investigation report.

In the court’s opinion, there was “more than enough” evidence to establish a prima facie product liability claim. The court further opined that, based on the evidence submitted by the parties regarding summary judgment, a reasonable jury could determine that the defect or danger existed when the blanket left the manufacturing defendant’s control, rather than, as alleged by the manufacturing defendant, after the plaintiffs were in possession of it.

Talk to an East Tennessee Product Liability Lawyer

If you or a member of your family has been hurt by a product that you believe may have been negligently designed, manufactured, or marketed, you need to talk to an attorney who can explain your legal rights. At the Hartsoe Law Firm, we serve clients in and around Knoxville, Maryville, and elsewhere in east Tennessee as they go about holding the makers and sellers of unreasonably dangerous or defect products liable for the injuries they have inflicted. Call us at 865-524-5657 to schedule a free consultation of your claim. Keep in mind that there are time limits that can restrict the time for filing a product liability claim, so please do not jeopardize your case by putting off this important phone call.

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