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Pennsylvania's Federal Middle District Applies Restatement Third in Products Case

As the state of substantive products liability law remains in flux while the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decides the issue in Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania applied the Restatement Third to a products case in Lynch v. Gander Mountain Co., 2013 U.S. Dist. Lexis 121322 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 27, 2013 Caputo, J.) in a recent decision. This marks the third time in the last year that Judge Caputo has applied the Restatement Third in a products case, as it has become clear that until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decides Tincher, the substantive law in a products liability action will vary on a Judge to Judge basis.

Plaintiff brought a products liability action against several defendants after being burned by using a product known as "Fire Gel" in a fire pot as directed. The Fire Gel ignited and burst into flames, projecting its contents two to three feet out of the bottle and landing in Plaintiff's lap, causing severe injuries. Plaintiff brought causes of action in strict products liability under the Restatement Second of Torts, as well as claims for breach of the warranty of habitability and breach of the warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. The product was subsequently recalled.

Defendant Gander Mountain filed a Motion to Dismiss the strict products liability claim under the Restatement Second and the breach of warranty claims. Judge Caputo found that because the Restatement Third of Torts should be applied, the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the strict liability claim was granted. Judge Caputo has taken the same approach in his prior two decisions applying the Restatement Third:

"Once the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit predicts how a state's highest court would resolve an issue, district courts within the circuit are bound by this prediction unless the state supreme court issues a contrary decision or it appears from a subsequent decision of the appellate courts that the court of appeals erred." Largoza v.Gen. Elec. Co., 538 F. Supp. 1164, 1166 (E.D. Pa. 1982).

The Court was referring to the Third Circuit's most recent prediction in Covell v. Bell Sports, Inc., 651 F.3d 357 (3d Cir. 2011), where the Court predicted that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would adopt the Restatement Third. The Third Circuit additionally suggested that the Restatement Third was the proper standard for Pennsylvania products cases in a footnote in Sikkelee v. Precision Automotive, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 22185, n. 1 (3d Cir. 2012), despite the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision in Beard v. Johnson, 41 A.3d 282 (Pa. 2012), where the Court held that the standards in the Restatement Second are to be applied to Pennsylvania product liability cases. Accordingly, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's pending decision in Tincher will bring an end to the varying application of substantive law in Pennsylvania products liability cases.

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