Great moments in foreseeable misuse

by Walter Olson on February 20, 2012

Cybex International, a manufacturer of exercise equipment, has agreed to pay $19.5 million to a Buffalo-area woman “who was injured by a piece of Cybex equipment when she improperly used a leg machine to stretch her shoulder.” A jury had awarded $66 million and a New York appellate court upheld the verdict, while reducing the sum to $44 million. [Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York; Lintoid/Seeking Alpha and more; Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association]

{ 6 comments }

1 VMS 02.20.12 at 11:56 am

This case is not as outrageous as it sounds, and the spin-doctors presented and re-presented it with a grossly misleading lede. This was not a case of “great moments in foreseeable misuse”!!! Rather it seems (I was not there and I only perfunctorily researched it) to be a case of a manufacturer who bought another manufacturer’s product line that had a defective design, namely, a tip-over hazard for a machine weighing 600 lbs. It seems that a woman who was a physical therapist working for an orthopedic physical therapy practice was using the machine to stretch by pulling on the machine. The defense expert himself even testified that this is a foreseeable use, and I myself have seen people at the gym pulling on the frame of various machines to stretch. The machine tipped over and broke the woman’s neck rendering her a quadriplegic.

I don’t care how you phrase it, this is a valid product defect and negligence case pure and simple. It is elementary design practice to include a footprint of the machine of sufficient size so that the machine will not be rendered unstable and tip with ordinary lateral forces. If it is not possible to design a machine with a large footprint, such as for use in limited spaces, then provisions for bolting it to the floor must be included.

Now we can argue about the damages and whether they were excessive. Despite the wild jury verdict of $66,000,000, the appellate court’s reduction to $3,000,000 for past pain and suffering is still steep, but sustainable. So is $9,000,000 for future pain and suffering.

http://law.justia.com/cases/new-york/appellate-division-fourth-department/2011/1233-1-ca-11-00893.html

2 timmaguire42 02.20.12 at 12:53 pm

It’s enough to make a fellow want to stretch his shoulder with his treadmill. Since I don’t have one, I should go buy one.

See? It’s boosting sales too!

3 timmaguire42 02.20.12 at 12:55 pm

VMS: killjoy. But you’re right, in virtually every case of an absurd verdict, there are important facts left out of the description.

4 Ray 02.21.12 at 12:10 am

VMS:

Having worked in the fitness industry years ago, I know it’s standard practice to bolt machines down for this very purpose. I was involved in the opening of several new gyms, and bolting the machines down was always a top priority, and given the otherwise shady character of the people who owned these places, that says a lot that even they were concerned and aware of the obvious liability issues.

Having also perfunctorily researched it, I believe the only way a rational person can arrive at the conclusion of a negligent design is to have started with a pretty heavy bias towards such thinking to begin with.

If a neighbor comes to your house and one of your 7 foot bookshelves tips over on them causing injury, who is at fault? The bookshelf maker or you, for putting all of your heaviest law texts on the top shelf and leaving your magazines on the bottom. (And on carpet no less!)

Something about the average, reasonably competent person comes to mind, and the people who owned the facility should bear the responsibility for how the machinery is used.

5 Jerryskids 02.21.12 at 12:37 pm

Interesting post, Ray, especially the part about “otherwise shady character[s]” being “concerned and aware of the obvious liability issues”. I notice that you didn’t say they were concerned and aware of the danger to their customers, they were concerned and aware of the danger to their wallets. Another example of chronicling the high cost of our legal system, no?

And to VMS – all I can say to the idea that this was an eminently foreseeable misuse is that the lady stood right there and tipped a heavy chunk of steel over onto her head. *She* obviously didn’t see it coming!

6 Leland D.Davis 02.22.12 at 11:44 pm

Speaking of tipping bookcases (Ray), because of heavy law tomes on top, I am not a lawyer (back in grad school studying health physics), but had an uncle who taught law school who suffered the simultaneous collapse of multiple bookcases on top of him in his office. He put too many of his heavy books on top, and the brackets holding the bookcases against the wall failed. Afterwards, in jest, some students awarded him a hard hat to wear at work.

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