A federal court in Minnesota, relying on state product-liability law, has determined that the mother of a 4-year-old girl, seriously burned when her dress caught fire from an unattended votive candle, may bring strict-liability claims against the company that designed and sold the dress even though the fabric complied with federal flammability standards. J.D.O. v. The Gymboree Corp., No. 12-71 (U.S. Dist. Ct. D. Minn., order entered November 27, 2013).

In this regard, the court quoted the state’s high court, which determined in another case, “the CS 191-53 test was not a valid indicator of the flammable characteristics of fabrics and did not take into account the uses to which the fabric would be put in determining its safety … It was shown that newspaper passed the CS 191-53 test with a 48-percent margin of safety … Furthermore, there was evidence that the test was adopted as a result of industry influence and, therefore, served to protect the textile industry rather than the public.” According to the court, the fabric used, as well as the open and flowing design of the garment, the lightweight quality of the cotton, and potentially safer alternative designs, could lead a reasonable jury to conclude that the dress was unreasonably dangerous. Thus, the court refused to grant the defendant summary judgment on this issue.
 
The court also found that genuine issues of material fact exist regarding whether (i) the dress was unreasonably dangerous for its intended use, (ii) the alleged defect was the proximate cause of the child’s injuries, (iii) the defendant had reason to know of the dress’s rapid ignition and flame spread characteristics, and (iv) the warning “Not Intended for Sleepwear” adequately advised buyers and users that the garment could be flammable. The court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment as to failure to test as an independent cause of action and as to breach of implied warranty of merchantability, finding that the plaintiff’s strictliability claims subsume the latter.
 
According to the court, the fabric used, as well as the open and flowing design of the garment, the lightweight quality of the cotton, and potentially safer alternative designs, could lead a reasonable jury to conclude that the dress was unreasonably dangerous.
 
The court also found that genuine issues of material fact exist regarding whether (i) the dress was unreasonably dangerous for its intended use, (ii) the alleged defect was the proximate cause of the child’s injuries, (iii) the defendant had reason to know of the dress’s rapid ignition and flame spread characteristics, and (iv) the warning “Not Intended for Sleepwear” adequately advised buyers and users that the garment could be flammable. The court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment as to failure to test as an independent cause of action and as to breach of implied warranty of merchantability, finding that the plaintiff’s strict-liability claims subsume the latter.