Can Window Screen Manufacturer Be Held Liable for Kentucky Toddler’s Fall?

by Mandy Hicks

In an unpublished 2013 case, a couple sued a window screen manufacturer and the owners of an apartment building. Their toddler fell through an open window and died. A Kentucky trial court dismissed their claims, and the couple appealed. The issue in the case was whether a manufacturer of the screen that was in the open window owed the family the duty to warn or design its screens such that the child’s fall would be prevented.

The child who died was in a fourth-floor apartment in which his grandmother lived. The window was open, but the screen was in place. The window sill was 7 inches above the floor.

The screen did not have any warnings on it. Other screens in the building did have a label that warned parents that their child should not be near the open window. The toddler’s parents brought a wrongful death action against defendants including the window manufacturer and owners and managers of the apartment building.

The screen manufacturer filed a motion to dismiss. It argued they did not owe the parents a duty to warn of the dangers of the screen. The couple attached fliers and pictures of the screens as well as one of the defendant’s interrogatory answers. The screen manufacturer argued the matter was a purely legal question with no need for a jury’s findings of fact. The court agreed and dismissed both the defective screen and failure to warn claims.

The court found the manufacturer didn’t have a duty to design a screen that would prevent children from falling out of an open window and that the primary use of a screen was to keep bugs out while letting air and light into a room. It also found the child had not used the screen correctly and that the risk of an open window with only a screen was completely obvious.

The court further found that the manufacturer’s placement of warnings on screens in other windows didn’t mean it had voluntarily assumed a duty to warn as to all screens. The parents appealed.

The appellate court explained that questions of duty in Kentucky involve both law and policy. A manufacturer is required to warn of latent risks consumers would deem significant in deciding whether to use a product.

There is no duty to warn against obvious risks. A reasonable consumer expects warnings only against substantial latent risks. The trial court had found that a child falling out of an open window was not a latent risk. The appellate court agreed.

The parents believed that since the manufacturer warned as to some it had assumed a duty to warn as to all. The appellate court disagreed.

The appellate court also explained that manufacturers have a duty to design a product that is reasonably safe for its intended, foreseeable use. In this case, the screen was not unreasonably dangerous. The court claimed a reasonable person doesn’t use a screen in order to restrain a child from falling. In this case, the parents did not allege that but for a feasible alternate design, the child would not have died. Rather they admitted that the manufacturer did not have a duty to design window screens capable of preventing falls. The lower court’s dismissal was affirmed.

If you are seriously injured or a loved one is killed due to a manufacturer’s failure to warn, the knowledgeable Kentucky personal injury attorneys of English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley can evaluate your claim. Contact us at (270) 781-6500 or via our online form.

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