Cummins v. Bic USA, Inc., 2011 WL 1399768 (W.D. Ky. 2011)

On December 17, 2004, a three-year-old child was dropped off at his mother’s home after an overnight visit with his father and step-mother. When he went to his bedroom, he tried to use a lighter he’d found in his father’s truck to loosen a button on his shirt. A few moments later, the child’s mother heard him screaming. She went to the stairs to find the child with the top half of his body covered in flames. The child’s parents brought a lawsuit against BIC, on the grounds of product liability, breach of warranty, and failure to warn.

After a 9-day jury trial, the jury found that BIC had not violated the Consumer Product Safety Rule, and the BIC lighter was not defective or unreasonably dangerous in a way that was a substantial factor in causing the child’s injuries. The plaintiffs moved for a new trial, which was denied. They then appealed the ruling to the district court on the basis that the trial was unfair because the court allowed inadmissible evidence, and improperly refused to give a jury instruction regarding opposing counsel’s misconduct.

On review, the district court’s denial of a new trial was upheld because the opposing counsel’s misconduct was not so grievous as to prejudice the plaintiff’s case, and the court used the correct legal standard in allowing the evidence.

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