Christian & Small attorney Jonathan M. Hooks recently secured an order granting his two clients, a major appliance distributor and a major national retail chain, a complete summary judgment on multiple claims arising out of a residential fire. The fire had resulted in the death of one of the residence’s occupants, and plaintiff had brought wrongful death and breach of warranty claims in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.
The Plaintiff’s case was premised upon an alleged defect which was claimed to have occurred during the manufacturing process. Hooks successfully argued that the defendants were immune from suit under a recent Alabama statute, Ala. Code 1975, § 6-5-501, which creates a defense for product distributors, retailers, and other “middlemen” who do not manufacture the product but merely move the product from maker to market. In an 18-page opinion, the federal court agreed and granted summary judgment on all counts.
The court’s decision is notable in two ways. First, since the distributor’s defense was enacted in 2011, this is the first published opinion analyzing certain aspects of that defense and robustly applying it to the facts. The decision can be expected to bolster arguments by other distributors facing Alabama lawsuits alleging defects relating to manufacture or design. Second, the Court adopted Hooks’s argument that the “apparent manufacturer doctrine” has been legislatively abrogated by the distributor’s defense. The Court’s order effectively means that a company is no longer presumed to have manufactured a product simply because its logo is added to a product.
The federal court’s order is styled, McCuistian v. LG Electronics, U.S.A., Inc. & Sears, Roebuck & Co., No. 1:15-cv-279-JA-GMB, (M.D. Ala. Dec. 2, 2016).