The Duty of a Seller to Deliver a Defect-Free Item: A Case of Negligence

tractor_red_tractor_red-scaledWhen an item is repaired, it is reasonable to expect it to be safe and free of defects upon its return. However, when an injury occurs after a product’s repair, the injured party is entitled to seek damages. For example, Joe McPherson suffered a knee injury after the battery compartment of a tractor, which Ronald Dauzat repaired, fell apart. The question of negligence and responsibility arose, leading to a legal dispute and subsequent appeal.

Dauzat sold his old tractor to McPherson. However, it did not function properly, so Dauzat took it in for repairs. Dauzat notified McPherson the tractor was ready to be picked up. When McPherson arrived at the shop, Dauzat was not there. But two men he assumed were employees permitted him to mount and inspect the tractor. When McPherson tried to demount, the battery compartment fell apart, and he fell and wounded his knee

McPherson filed a lawsuit against Dauzat for his injury. His complaint alleged the defective tractor caused his injuries. He stated that his injury would have been prevented if the battery box had been firmly latched. Dauzat filed an involuntary dismissal and claimed McPherson failed to present evidence that the unlatched box was the cause of his fall. 

At trial, the court found McPherson failed to prove the two men in the store were Dauzat’s employees. Thus, McPherson was not vicariously liable. The trial court granted the involuntary dismissal in conformity with La. C.C.P. art. 1672 which states, “A voluntary dismissal can be obtained if the plaintiff shows no right to relief.”  McPherson appealed.

On appeal, McPherson asserted several assignments of error relating to affirmative defenses, vicarious liability, res ipsa loquitor, involuntary dismissal, and the evidence given. First, McPherson claimed damages under La. C.C.P. art. 2317.1 states: the owner or caretaker of a thing is responsible for the damage caused by its ruin if he failed to use reasonable care. To succeed in a case under La. C.C.P. art. 2317.1, McPherson must show: (1) Dauzat was in the custody of the tractor; (2) the tractor was flawed; (3) Dauzat had knowledge of the defect; (4) the injury was avoidable; and (5) Dauzat failed to use reasonable care. 

Dauzat replied and testified his shop was closed and empty on the day of the accident. Nonetheless, the trial court found this to be false. Since Dauzat did not challenge that McPherson failed to show the man who permitted him to get on the tractor was his employee for his involuntary dismissal, the court found that Dauzat’s employee gave  McPherson approval.

Dauzat further argued that McPherson did not produce evidence of the relationship between the unlatched battery compartment to his injuries. McPherson explained he removed the battery compartment when the tractor was not functioning. Therefore, Dauzat would have had to put it back when making repairs. Consequently, he was the last person to be in contact with the compartment. The evidence proved there was a correlation between the latch being unhinged and the plausibility of an injury. Dauzat failed to exercise reasonable care when he returned the tractor to McPherson without ensuring it was safe.

In this case, the court examined the duty of a seller to deliver a defect-free item. McPherson claimed that the unlatched battery compartment caused his fall and subsequent injury, asserting negligence on the part of Dauzat. The trial court initially dismissed the case, but on appeal, the appeal court found that McPherson had proven negligence. The court emphasized the importance of sellers exercising reasonable care and delivering items that are safe for use. This case serves as a reminder of the sellers’ duty to provide defect-free products and the legal recourse available to injured parties when this duty is breached.


Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Needum Lekia

Other Berniard Law Firm Articles on Defective Products: Absent Vehicle, Absent Negligence: Louisiana Appellate Court Affirms Dismissal of Products Liability Lawsuit

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