In Sanchez v. Hitachi Koki, Co., Ltd. (filed 7/9/13) 2013 DJDAR 8970, plaintiff sued the manufacturer of a grinder for personal injuries resulting from plaintiff’s use of a saw blade manufactured by a third party. The grinder’s safety manual and instructions expressly warned that saw blades should not be used with the grinder. Plaintiff was trying to grind down a truck tire. When the grinder he was using did not get the job done, plaintiff went to a hardware store (sued also) to get a bigger grinder, one manufactured by defendant Hitachi. Plaintiff alleges that a store employee recommended that a Razor Back tooth saw blade be used with the grinder. Plaintiff did so, and when the saw blade came in contact with the tire, he lost control of the grinder, cutting his left hand.
Hitachi moved for summary judgment, relying on O’Neil v. Crane Co. (2012) 53 Cal. 335. (See discussions on this blog dated June 1, 2012.) The California Supreme Court stated in O’Neil that a manufacturer has no duty to warn about another manufacturer’s product even if it was forseeable that the two products would be used together; this defendant’s product would have to contribute substantially to the harm in order for there to be liability. The trial court agreed with Hitachi and granted summary judgment. On plaintiff’s appeal, the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Four, affirmed.
Plaintiff argued that O’Neil is distinguishable because the grinder itself was defective on three bases: (1) Hitachi’s grinder lacked “kickback” protection, (2) this particular blade and other common circular saw blades fit the grinder, and (3) there was no applicable warning on the grinder itself. The appellate court disagreed quickly dispatching this argument as follows: (1) the product was not designed or intended to be used with a blade and in fact warned against such, even though Hitachi had no duty to warn, thus the question of kickback protection is irrelevant and such a requirement would be contrary to public policy; (2) likewise irrelevant is the fact that blades could fit into the grinder because manufacturer’s intended use rather than mere compatabilty is the appropriate question; and (3) the adequacy of the warning given by Hitachi is irrelevant as it had no duty to warn. In sum, there was no evidence that any conduct of Hitachi contributed substantially to the harm caused to plaintiff, thus the O’Neil rule applied.
I see the appellate court here saying to litigants the Supreme Court meant what it said in providing that a manufacturer, as a matter of public policy, cannot be expected to warn about other products for which it is not responsible. One should have a viable theory of liability before suing any party within sight. In Sanchez, the plaintiff will have his day in court against the seller who allegedly recommended the use of the blade in the manner in which it was used.