Laramie v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 707 A.2d 443, 142 N.H. 653 (N.H. 1998)

On the evening of October 28, 1991, Peter and Lynn Laramie were having dinner at their home in Nashua, New Hampshire. After they had put the dishes in the dishwasher and started the appliance, they cleared the sink for their 9-month-old daughter’s bath. While Lynn was bathing her daughter, water from the dishwasher backed up into the sink, causing full-thickness burns to the child’s perineal area, which later required skin grafts.

The Laramies filed a lawsuit against Sears as the seller of the dishwasher, alleging negligence, failure to warn, and strict liability. During the trial, the plaintiffs argued that Sears failed to warn users that hot water from the dishwasher could back up into the sink, causing scalding burn injuries. Failure to issue such a warning made the dishwasher unreasonably dangerous. Sears; however, claimed that the parents were negligent in bathing the child. Ultimately, the jury found for the plaintiffs, awarding the child $40,000 on the negligence claim, attributing the negligence 85% to the parents, and 15% to Sears.

Sears appealed the decision, arguing that it was entitled to a directed verdict because the evidence presented did not support a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs. Sears maintained that the plaintiffs had the burden of proving Sears owed the plaintiffs a duty, breached that duty, and the plaintiff suffered an injury as a result.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire found that the trial court did not err in allowing the plaintiff’s expert to testify as to the need for a warning regarding the danger of scalding water from a dishwasher. They deferred to the trial court on the decisions and determinations of fact made by the trial judge and jury, and ultimately affirmed the trial court’s holding, finding negligence on the part of Sears.

Gray v. Leisure Life Industries, 77 A. 3d 1117 (N.H. 2013)

In December of 1996, Jeffrey Gray bought a robe for his wife JoAnne, from the Orvis company. Orvis bought the robe from a manufacturer, Leisure Life. In 2005, JoAnne Gray was wearing the robe while adding wood to her stove, when suddenly the robe caught fire. JoAnne Gray was suffered severe burns as a result of the fire.

The Grays filed a lawsuit against Orvis, Leisure Life Industries, and other parties involved in the design or distribution of the robe, as well as the sale of the wood stove. Plaintiffs alleged multiple counts of negligence and strict liability. Leisure Life filed a motion for summary judgment based on the sale of the company to Knothe in 2004, who owned the company at the time of JoAnne Gray’s injury. Orvis sought indemnity from the defendants, as it did not manufacture the robe, and was only a pass-through entity. Just before the start of trial, all other defendants settled with the plaintiffs.

The Grays filed a motion for summary judgment against the defendants on the indemnity claim, which the trial court deferred until after the trial on the underlying claims. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendants, after which the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the finding precluded the plaintiff’s recovery on the indemnity claim. The trial court found for the plaintiffs, awarding them $1 million based on the defendants’ implied obligation to indemnify Orvis. The defendants appealed the decision.

Defendants argued that the trial court erred in finding Knothe liable as a successor to Leisure Life, that there was no basis in awarding attorney’s fees, and the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the issue of indemnity.

The Supreme Court of New Hampshire found that Orvis’s settlement with the plaintiffs did not extinguish the liability of the remaining defendants. They also found that the trial court erred in awarding Orvis’s attorney’s fees to the plaintiffs since the trial court erred in ruling that the plaintiffs were entitled to indemnification. The lower court’s ruling was reversed.

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