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Read Case 10-2, Welge v. Planters Lifesavers, on page 243. What theory of liability did Justice Posner use in finding the defendant liable? What are
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Read Case 10-2, Welge v. Planters Lifesavers, on page 243. What theory of liability did JusTce Posner use in Fnding the defendant liable? What are the judge’s reasons for reversing the decisions of the lower court? Do you agree with the decision? Why or why not? ±eel free to research and discuss other product liability cases of interest. "WELGE v. PLAN²ERS LI±ESAVERS CO. COUR² O± APPEALS ±OR ²HE SEVEN²H CIRCUI² 17 ±.3D 209 (7²H CIR. 1994) Richard Welge, who boarded with Karen Godfrey, liked peanuts on his ice cream sundaes. Godfrey bought a 24-ounce vacuum-sealed plasTc-capped jar of Planters peanuts for Welge at K-Mart. ²o obtain a $2 rebate, Godfrey needed proof of her purchase from the jar of peanuts. She used an Exacto knife to remove the part of the label that contained the bar code and placed the jar on top of the refrigerator for Welge. A week later, Welge removed the plasTc seal from the jar, uncapped it, took some peanuts, replaced the cap, and returned the jar to the top of the refrigerator. A week a³er that, he took down the jar, removed the plasTc cap, spilled some peanuts into his le³ hand to put on his sundae, and replaced the cap with his right hand. As he pushed the cap down on the open jar, the jar sha´ered. His hand was severely cut, and became permanently impaired. Welge Fled product liability acTons against K-Mart, the seller of the product; Planters, the manufacturer of the peanuts; and Brockway, the manufacturer of the glass jar. Defendants Fled a moTon for summary judgment a³er dis- covery. ²he district judge granted the moTon on the ground that the plainTµ had failed to exclude possible causes of the accident other than a defect introduced during the manufac- turing process. ²he plainTµ appealed." "JUS²ICE POSNER: No doubt there are men strong enough to sha´er a thick glass jar with one blow. But Welge’s tesTmony stands uncontradicted that he used no more than the normal force that one exerts in snapping a plasTc lid onto a jar. So the jar must have been defecTve. No expert tesTmony and no fancy doctrine are required for such a conclusion. A nondefecTve jar does not sha´er when normal force is used to clamp its plasTc lid on. ²he quesTon is when the defect was introduced. It could have been at any Tme from the manufacture of the glass jar by Brockway (for no one suggests that the defect might have been caused by something in the raw materials out of which the jar was made) to moments before the accident. But tesTmony by Welge and Godfrey . . . excludes all reasonable possibility that the defect was introduced into the jar a³er Godfrey plucked it from a shelf in the K-Mart store. ±rom the shelf she put it in her shopping cart. ²he checker at the check out counter scanned the bar code without banging the jar. She then placed the jar in a plasTc bag. Godfrey carried the bag to her car and put it on the ¶oor. She drove directly home, without incident. A³er the bar code porTon of the label was removed, the jar sat on top of the refrigerator except for the two Tmes Welge removed it to take peanuts out of it. ²hroughout this process it was not, so far as anyone knows, jostled, dropped, bumped, or otherwise subjected to stress beyond what is to be expected in the ordinary use of the product. Chicago is not Los
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Angeles; there were no earthquakes. Chicago is not Amityville either; no supernatural intervenTons are alleged. So the defect must have been introduced earlier, when the jar was in the hands of the defendants. . . . [I]t is always possible that the jar was damaged while it was si±ng una²ended on the top of the refrig- erator, in which event they are not responsible. Only if it had been securely under lock and key when not being used could the plainTF and Karen Godfrey be certain that noth- ing happened to damage it a³er she brought it home. ´hat is true—there are no metaphysical certainTes—but it leads nowhere. Elves may have played ninepins with the jar of peanuts while Welge and Godfrey were sleeping; but elves could remove a jar of peanuts from a locked cupboard. ´he plainTF in a product liability suit is not required to exclude every possibility, however fantasTc or remote, that the defect which led to the accident was caused by someone other than one of the defendants. ´he doctrine of res ipsa loquitur teaches that an accident that is unlikely to occur, unless the defendant was negligent, is itself circum- stanTal evidence that the defendant was negligent. ´he doctrine is not strictly applicable to a product liability case because, unlike an ordinary accident case, the defendant in a products case has parted with possession and control of the harmful object before the accident occurs. . . . But the doctrine merely instanTates the broader principle, which is as applicable to a products case as to any other tort case, that an accident can itself be evidence of liability. . . . If it is the kind of accident that would not have occurred but for a defect in the product, and if it is reasonably plain that the defect was not introduced a³er the product was sold, the accident is evidence that the product was defecTve when sold. ´he second condiTon (as well as the µrst) has been established here, at least to a probability su¶cient to defeat a moTon for summary judgment. Normal people do not lock up their jars and cans lest something happens to damage these containers while no one is looking. ´he probability of such damage is too remote. It is not only too remote to make a raTonal person take measures to prevent it; it is too remote to defeat a product liability suit should a container prove dangerously defecTve. . . . [I]f the probability that the defect which caused the acci- dent arose a³er Karen Godfrey bought the jar of Planters pea- nuts is very small—and on the present state of the record we are required to assume that it is—then the probability that the defect was introduced by one of the defendants is very high. . . . ´he strict-liability element in modern product liabil- ity law comes precisely from the fact that a seller, subject to that law, is liable for defects in his product even if those defects were introduced, without the slightest fault of his own for failing to discover them, at some anterior stage of producTon. . . . So the fact that K-Mart sold a defecTve jar of peanuts to Karen Godfrey would be conclusive of K-Mart’s liability, and since it is a large and solvent µrm there would be no need for the plainTF to look further for a tor·easor. . . . Here we know to a virtual certainty (always assuming "
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