There is a misconception among some that if a product is destroyed during a fire, that it will be too difficult to prove the product had a defect because no specific mechanism can be pinpointed as the cause and origin of the fire. However, in spite of manufacturing defendants’ attempts to take advantage of a potential legal Catch-22, Indiana law allows a manufacturing defect in a product to be proven through circumstantial evidence and a process of elimination. This was explained by a federal court applying Indiana law in Gaskin v. Sharp Electronics.
In Gaskin, the plaintiffs claimed that a 19-inch Sharp television caught fire in Ms. Gaskin’s elderly mother’s room, causing her death. They alleged that Sharp was strictly liable for placing an unreasonably dangerous and defective product–the television–into the stream of commerce. Sharp filed a motion for summary judgment claiming the plaintiffs were unable to show a defect in the television after their engineering expert was excluded by the court as unreliable.
The plaintiffs responded to the manufacturer’s motion with evidence from a fire investigator who noted that based on his burn pattern analysis and other evidence examined, the fire originated to the north of the television stand. And, circuit wiring in the room was examined and eliminated as the cause of the fire. Although a definitive cause could not be determined, the investigator opined that the fire had burned upward and outward from the television stand. He conceded he didn’t know the first thing about televisions, but the television was the only ignition source among many he examined that could not be eliminated.