Product liability is an area of the law that deals with when and how product manufacturers can be held liable for the creation or manufacture of products that cause injury to consumers. A central tenet of product liability is that manufacturers have a duty to warn consumers of known hazards in a product. Thus, for instance, toy manufacturers who create toys for children with small parts must be careful to warn consumers of the hazards that such small parts may pose for young children, such as toddlers. Recently, the Sixth Circuit looked closely at product liability based on a failure to warn when the consumer was already aware of the known hazards of the product.
In Smith v. Joy Technologies, Mr. Smith was employed at a coal mine owned by Southern Coal Corporation in Kentucky. The coal mine used a high wall mining (HWM) system to remove coal from the coal mine. Under this system, conveyor cars are pushed into the mine through a hydraulic system that pushes the cars forward. The cars are loaded with coal, and, when all the cars are full, the system is reversed so that the cars can be extracted from the mine and the coal removed. Guide rails typically operate alongside the car system in order to maintain the alignment of the cars. Here, Mr. Smith was working to empty cars as they returned from the mine when an electrical cable on a car became stuck. Mr. Smith went to dislodge the electrical cable and in so doing, placed his foot between the guide rail and the hydraulic pusher for the cars. One of his coworkers mistakenly activated the hydraulic system, and the pusher engaged, crushing Mr. Smith’s foot between the pusher and the guide rail. After several surgeries, Mr. Smith’s lower leg was ultimately amputated, and he was declared fully disabled.