Fire Hose Manufacturer Obtains Summary Judgment On Design Defect Claims Following Fatality

The U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts granted summary judgment to the manufacturer of a fire truck on claims that the truck was defective because it was not equipped with a net restraint that could have prevented the escape of a hose from the bed of the truck.  The hose had come loose while the truck was moving and the hose’s nozzle struck and killed a pedestrian crossing the street.  The court agreed with the manufacturer’s argument that without the aid of expert testimony (the plaintiff offered none), a jury could not assess whether the hose-storage design of the truck failed to meet reasonable safety standards when the truck was built, or whether the accident more likely resulted from the mishandling of the hose by the firefighters in the truck.

When this particular truck was built in 2002, the manufacturer offered redundant hose restraints as an accessory, but that accessory was not ordered with this truck.  At that time, the relevant industry safety organization did not require or recommend that fire trucks be equipped with redundant hose restraints.  In 2005, however, the National Fire Protection Association started requiring fire trucks to be equipped with some type of hose restraint, but did not require any recalls or retrofits of old trucks.  The court granted summary judgment to the manufacturer because the plaintiff, when alleging negligent design and warranty liability claims, was required to come forward with competent expert testimony that a defect in the product, present at the time it was manufactured and sold, caused the injuries in question, whenever the cause of an accident is “not susceptible of determination by the jury’s general knowledge of practical affairs.”

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