Legal Memorandum: Product Misuse and Manufacturer's Liability

Issue: Under New Jersey law, is a defendant in a products liability action liable for injuries caused by the product where the plaintiff had used the product in a non-foreseeable manner?

Area of Law: Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Manufacturer's liability; Misuse of product; Non-foreseeable manner
Jurisdiction: New Jersey
Cited Cases: 406 A.2d 140; 81 N.J. 150; 133 N.J. 581; 386 A.2d 816; 125 N.J. Super. 224; 607 A.2d 637; 628 A.2d 710; 619 A.2d 1312; 723 P.2d 1322
Cited Statutes: Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A;
Date: 02/01/2001

A manufacturer may be liable for a defective product design even when a plaintiff misuses the manufacturer’s product if the misuse is objectively foreseeable.  Jurado v. Western Gear Works, 131 N.J. 375, 385, 619 A.2d 1312 (1993); Johansen v. Makita U.S.A., Inc., 128 N.J. 86, 95, 607 A.2d 637 (1992); Cepada v. Cumberland Eng’g Co., 76 N.J. 152, 177, 386 A.2d 816 (1978), overruled on other grounds by Suter v. San Angelo Foundry & Mach. Co., 81 N.J. 150, 406 A.2d 140 (1979).  Conversely, however, if the product is misused in a manner that is not objectively foreseeable, the manufacturer owes no duty to protect the plaintiff from a resulting injury and therefore is not liable for such an injury.  Jurado, supra, 131 N.J. at 388, 619 A.2d 1312.  In a case involving product misuse, the plaintiff must prove that his or her misuse was objectively foreseeable.  Id. at 386, 619 A.2d 1312.

The concept of product misuse involves two distinct types of conduct under New Jersey law.  One is the use of a product for an improper purpose; the other is the use of a product in an improper manner.  Jurado, supra, 131 N.J. at 386, 619 A.2d 1312.  The latter is based on comment h of Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A, which explains that "[a] product is not in a defective condition […]

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