Legal Memorandum: Negligent or Improper Use of Product

Issue: Under New Jersey law, is a plaintiff’s negligent or improper use of a product admissible to determine proximate cause and contributory negligence?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Negligent or improper use of a product; Proximate cause; Contributory negligence
Jurisdiction: New Jersey
Cited Cases: 406 A.2d 140; 258 N.J. Super. 261; 133 N.J. 581; 609 A.2d 487; 607 A.2d 637; 628 A.2d 710
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 02/01/2001

A plaintiff’s negligent use of a product or subjective knowledge of the danger at the time of the injury is admissible on the issue of proximate cause.  E.g. Fabian v. Minster Mach. Co., 258 N.J. Super. 261, 277-78, 609 A.2d 487 (1992); Johansen v. Makita U.S.A., Inc., 128 N.J. 86, 95, 103, 607 A.2d 637 (1992) (plaintiff’s method of operating saw admissible as to causation); Suter v. San Angelo Foundry & Mach. Co., 81 N.J. 150, 159, 406 A.2d 140 (1979) (plaintiff’s use of product relevant to show that abnormal use, not any defect, caused the injury).  In Fabian, the defendant manufacturer introduced evidence at trial that the injured worker was aware of the danger of placing his hand near the die on his punch press machine while the machine was in operation.  Fabian, supra, 258 N.J. Super. at 278-79, 609 A.2d 487.  The defense argued that the evidence was admissible on the issue of proximate cause, in that it tended to prove that no warning was necessary because the danger was open and obvious.  Id.  at 278-79, 609 A.2d 487.  The court agreed, holding that preexisting knowledge of danger may negate a claim that the absence of a warning was a proximate cause of an injury.  Id. at 279-80, 609 A.2d 487.

The Coffman v. Keene Corp., 133 N.J. 581,