Hufford v Samsung Electronics (UK) Ltd [2014] EWHC 2956 (TCC); and

Joseph Simon Love v Halfords Ltd [2014] EWHC 1057 (QB)

Facts

In Hufford v Samsung Electronics, the Claimant issued proceedings against the Defendant under the Consumer Protection Act 1987 (the "CPA") following a fire at his home. The Claimant said that his Samsung fridge-freezer, which caught fire, was defective within the meaning of s. 3 of the CPA. Specifically, the Claimant alleged that the fire originated inside the fridge-freezer, in the machinery compartment at the rear. The Defendant, however, contended that the fire had originated in some combustible material external to the appliance.

In Love v Halfords, the Claimant purchased a mountain bike from the Defendant. Nine months later, whilst cycling on a tarmac cycle path, the Claimant lost control of the bike and sustained a serious head injury. The Claimant similarly brought an action under s. 3 of the CPA, as well as under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 and the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982, arguing that the accident had been caused by fracture of the bike’s steerer tube, a defect that had been present since the bike's supply. The Defendant denied the existence of a defect on purchase, contending that the Claimant had either been involved in a previous accident which had damaged the steerer tube, following which damage had been exacerbated due to inadequate repair, or that the tube had fractured as a result of the accident in question.

Decisions

Considering the evidence in the whole, the Technology and Construction Court found, in Hufford v Samsung Electronics, that the Claimant had not discharged his burden of proof in showing either that there had been a defect in the product or that the origin of the fire had been in the machinery compartment. The Court held that the burden of proof was on the Claimant throughout, whose duty it was to prove the existence of a product's defect and that the defect had caused the accident. The Court found the Claimant was not required to specify the defect with accuracy or precision, but had to prove its existence in broad or general terms, which he had failed to do. The claim was dismissed.

The High Court also dismissed the claim in Love v Halfords. Attaching significant weight to the expert evidence adduced, the Court held that it was appropriate to infer from the Court-appointed fractographer that there had been nothing defective about the design of the product, its assembly, or the steel from which it had been made. The expert found that the fracture was the result of a different accident, involving considerable speed and force. The damage caused by this earlier accident had been exacerbated by amateur repair and incompetent straightening. Whilst the Defendant could not be specific as to how and when that had happened, reasonable inference from the evidence led the Court to conclude that a botched attempt to the repair the tube had made it worse. The Claimant's significant evidential shortcomings, including his lack of memory of the incident and the absence of any eye-witnesses, hindered his case. As he was unable to establish that the cause of the accident was due to a defect at the point of sale, the claim failed.

Comment

The above cases serve as a reminder that the burden of showing a product defect exists and causation of damage under the CPA sits squarely with the claimant. They also show how crucial factual and expert evidence can be in CPA litigation.