Patterson v. Central Mills, Inc., 112 F.2d 681 (N.D. Ohio 2000)

In the fall of 1996, Beatrice Patterson purchased a t-shirt for her eleven-year-old son Maurice from Meijer. The shirt featured the “Looney Tunes” character “Taz,” a Tasmanian devil. The shirt was marketed by Central Mills, with the trademark name “Freeze” also on the shirt. Warner Brothers’ trade name was also marked as “An Official Looney Tunes Product.”

While Maurice was watching the Super Bowl, with his mother asleep, he decided to cook some hot dogs. He turned on the gas stove and jumped up to look for some ketchup in the cupboards above the stove. While he was leaning over the stove, his shirt caught fire, causing severe second and third-degree burns to Maurice over almost 30% of his body.

The Patterson’s filed a lawsuit against Central Mills, Warner Brothers, and Meijer on the basis that the shirt was unreasonably flammable, and the flammability of the shirt was the proximate cause of Maurice’s injuries. Central Mills filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing the plaintiff’s negligence was greater than that of the defendants, the shirt was not defective under Ohio law, and the state consumer protections laws do not support their claim.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio found that Central Mills could not support their claim for summary judgment, where there were disputes as to the material facts in the case as to the negligence of each party, the design and manufacturing defects of the shirt, and the failure to warn of the flammability and dangers associated with the shirt. Summary judgment was granted on the basis of breach of express warranty, manufacturing defect, and the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act.

Becton v. Starbucks Corp., 491 F.Supp.2d 737 (S. D. Ohio, 2007)

Larry Becton walked into a Starbucks store in Columbus, Ohio, and ordered two large hot coffees to go. An employee placed lids on the coffee cups and put the cups in a cardboard beverage carrier. Becton picked up the drink carrier and went to walk out the door. As he pushed the exit door with his hip, the lids popped off the cups, spilling hot coffee onto his chest, abdomen and hand.

A woman who identified herself as the store manager approached Becton, apologizing and saying that the lids must not have been attached correctly and that they must have been defective. Becton went to Urgent Care for treatment of his burns. He alleges suffering physical and psychological problems as a result of the coffee accident.

Becton filed a lawsuit against Starbucks with claims of negligence and product liability. Starbucks filed a motion for summary judgment, along with a motion for expenses and attorney’s fees. Becton also filed a motion for attorney’s fees.

Under Ohio negligence law, in order to recover in a products liability action based on negligence, the plaintiff has to show defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, the duty was breached, and injury proximately resulted from that breach. The district court found that plaintiff presented sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that Starbucks had a duty to fasten the lids to the cups, and in breaching that duty, the plaintiff suffered a burn injury.

However, the court found that the defendant won on their products liability claim, because the plaintiff failed to present any evidence from which a jury could find a manufacturing or design defect. The court granted Starbucks summary judgment on the products liability claim, but found for the plaintiff on the negligence claim.

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