Products Liability: Tough Builders
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Ben owned Smart Testing Laboratories (“STL”), a sole proprietorship, which was in the business of conducting various physical, chemical, electronic, and other tests on products being developed by manufacturers. In one part of STL’s facilities was a large wind tunnel, used to test the aerodynamic characteristics of vehicles, boats, planes, and their component elements for the companies that designed and built them. The structure housing the wind tunnel had been constructed by Top Construction, which also installed most of the electrical system. The fans and motors for the tunnel were built and installed by Metal Workers, Inc. The baffles and vents of the tunnel, and a specially constructed grating to protect the fan blades from objects sucked towards them, were built and installed by Windy Systems, Inc. The electronic systems that regulated air speed and that included safety devices to shut off air flow in an emergency were designed and installed by Modern Electronics, Inc. Ben had purchased the wind tunnel as a completed unit from Tough Builders, and was not involved in its design or manufacture except to order it and pay for it when completed.
One day, David, who worked for STL as a technician, was installing a scale model of a prototype aircraft that was to be tested in the wind tunnel when the electronic control system of the tunnel malfunctioned and started the huge fans that created the airflow. Before David could reach the exit, the powerful air currents knocked him over and blew him into the grating covering the fan intake ducts. The airflow held David against the grating, immobilizing him. Wally, the engineer who was to conduct the test of the aircraft model, heard the wind tunnel in operation and hurried to the control room wondering if David had started the tests in his absence. When Wally reached the control room five minutes after the fans had been activated, he saw that David was trapped against the grating and shut off the fans. The powerful air currents had made it impossible for David, crushed against the grating, to breathe, and he had asphyxiated. Neither Wally nor the paramedics who arrived shortly thereafter could revive David.
Q. If David’s survivors bring an appropriate action against Tough Builders for negligently causing David’s death, what do they need to prove in order to recover?
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What duty does Tough Builders have to its customers? Was it breached? Was there causation?