Sophisticated Users Under South Carolina Product Liability Law
Fort Mill, SC Lawyer
The South Carolina Supreme Court issued a decision regarding a product liability case that addressed the applicability of the so-called “sophisticated user” doctrine in product liability lawsuits. In this case, the plaintiff suffered severe burns over almost half his body when a very flammable chemical caught fire at his job site owned by his employer, Engelhard Corporation. The fire burned 42% of the plaintiff’s skin, including his face, ears, arms, legs, and lungs. The fire left the plaintiff severely disfigured with limited eyesight.
The plaintiff in his case filed a product liability suit against multiple entities in the chain of supply of the dangerous chemical involved, sodium bromate, including the supplier of the chemical and the purchaser of the chemical, which in this case was the plaintiff’s employer, Engelhard. He first claims that the defendants supplied the sodium bromate in bags that were in a defective and unreasonably dangerous condition because they were made of combustible material. Second, the plaintiff asserts that the defendants failed to provide sufficient warning of the chemical’s propensity to ignite spontaneously and explosively when in contact with certain packaging materials.
During trial, the court instructed the jury on a concept called the “sophisticated user” doctrine. This concept comes into play when circumstances make it difficult or even impossible for a seller to meet its duty to warn the product’s end user. The “sophisticated user” doctrine requires that, in determining whether a seller of a dangerous product acted with reasonable care in fulfilling its duty to warn the end user of dangers associated with the use of the product, a jury must consider the following:
- What the purchaser of the dangerous product already knew about its dangers; and
- Whether, under the circumstances, the seller can reasonably rely on the purchaser to warn its employees and others who might come into contact with the product.
The sophisticated user concept applies when there is evidence that the seller of a product was aware that an intermediate purchaser understood the dangers of using the product and had the ability to effectively communicate those dangers to the end user, in this case, Engelhard’s employees. In this case, the plaintiff argued that the jury should not be instructed on the “sophisticated user” doctrine because it was not applicable in this case. However, the court found that there was evidence the sellers knew the nature of Engelhard’s business, as well as its understanding regarding the chemical’s dangers and the steps it took to protect employees. The sellers knew that Engelhard used large quantities of the chemical and tested samples before deciding to purchase it. The evidence also shows that the sellers believed Engelhard had a safety program that ensured employees were adequately informed of the dangers of the chemicals in the facility. Therefore, the court decided that the jury was appropriately instructed on the “sophisticated user” doctrine.
Products liability actions involve many complex legal concepts and procedural requirements. The seasoned attorneys at Bice Law, LLC, can help you obtain compensation if you or a loved one has been injured because of a defective product. Contact us today for a free initial consultation.
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