The Plaintiffs allowed their five-year-old child to help them prepare the morning coffee, as they had frequently done before. As the child pressed down on the plunger knob, the carafe shattered, causing hot coffee to erupt and burn 13% of his body. As a result, the child had to undergo multiple medical procedures and was left horribly disfigured and permanently scarred. The manufacturer, Bodum, does not challenge that the Normans purchased the Press less than two years prior to the incident, brand-new and in its original packaging, and never modified or repaired it. The District Court granted Bodum’s motion for summary judgment, determining that none of the Normans’ proffered evidence was sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact. As for the plaintiffs’ expert’s testimony, the District Court concluded that he had examined too small a sample of exemplar French presses from which to infer that the protruding coil was a defect, especially given the fact that some of the coil assemblies advertised for sale on Bodum’s website contain a protruding coil.
However, the U.S. Fifth Circuit reversed:
“There are several problems with the district court’s reasoning. For one, Lingnell based his conclusion that the Press contained a manufacturing defect on more than just his analysis of the exemplars, including: (1) the standard principle that sharp metal edges should never come into contact with glass, (2) Bodum’s warnings to this effect, and (3) the appearance of the mesh that otherwise engulfs the spring coil and separates it from the glass carafe. And even if Lingnell’s conclusion were based on the exemplars alone, the district court’s criticism merely bears on the weight and credibility of Lingnell’s testimony – which is an issue for trial. Relatedly, the district court focused heavily on the fact that several coil assemblies advertised on Bodums website also contain a protruding coil. The district court concluded that this is strong evidence that Bodum does not view the protruding coil as defective. But an alternative interpretation of Bodum’s website marketing materials is also available. The website could demonstrate, as the Normans suggest, that Bodum tolerated, rather than intended, the deviation….
“All told, the record contains at least the following evidence: (1) testimony from the Normans that they purchased their Press in brand-new condition and never altered or repaired it; (2) a specific alleged defect consisting of a metal coil protruding beyond its mesh enclosure; (3) the district court’s finding that ‘the metal mesh was intended to completely engulf the metal coil,’ which is corroborated by expert testimony; (4) an expert witness who examined the Press, tested it, compared it with two exemplars, and opined that the protruding metal coil deviated from the Press’s intended design, and caused the glass to fracture and ultimately shatter; and (5) the shattering of the Press’s glass carafe allegedly during ordinary use, albeit by a five-year-old child. Viewing this evidence in the light most favorable to the Normans and drawing all reasonable inferences in their favor, we find that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether the Press contained a manufacturing defect that caused the Normans’ injury.”
Norman v. Bodum USA, 44 F.4th 270 (5th Cir. 2022).