Using Circumstantial Evidence to Prove a Product Defect


Present circumstantial evidence to establish that a product was defective

When it comes to product liability claims against a manufacturer, one thing that can be detrimental to a claim is when the product is so badly damaged after a fire that the specific defect or malfunction cannot be identified. The good news is that all is not lost.  Ohio Revised Code 2307.73(B) provides that a claimant may present circumstantial evidence to establish that a manufacturer’s product was defective if the product was destroyed. Keis George used Ohio Revised Code 2307.73(B) to help overcome a manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment on a manufacturing defect claim.

Manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment

In Erie Insurance Company v. Sunbeam Products, Inc., Erie brought a subrogation action for product liability against the manufacturer of a space heater that malfunctioned and caused a fire. Erie’s claim primarily alleged that the Sunbeam space heater was defective in manufacture or construction. Sunbeam sought summary judgment on the grounds that Erie could not prove a specific defect in its product.

Ohio Revised Code 2307.74 provides that a product is defective in manufacturer or construction “if, when it left the control of its manufacturer, it deviated in a material way from the design specifications…or performance standards of the manufacturer, or from otherwise identical units manufactured to the same design specifications…or performance standards.”

Court concluded a reasonable jury could find in favor of the plaintiff based upon circumstantial evidence

Erie’s expert could not attribute the cause of the fire to a specific defect within the space heater. However, Erie presented evidence that the origin of the fire was within the Sunbeam space heater in an area inaccessible to Erie’s insured, and that Erie’s insured had not altered the space heater. The Court ultimately concluded that a reasonable jury could find in favor of Erie based upon the circumstantial evidence.

Product liability subrogation

In light of this analysis, a claimant should keep in mind that it may have a product liability case even when damage to the product is too severe for the claimant to be able to pinpoint a specific defect within the product. Claimants can present circumstantial evidence to establish that a product was defective. For this and other information, contact an attorney with our product liability subrogation practice.