The Louisiana Supreme Court has dismissed product liability claims filed against the company that made an oil well pump which a 13-year-old attempted to “ride” and was seriously injured when his pants became entangled in its parts. Payne v. Gardner, No. 2010-C-2627 (La., decided February 18, 2011). A Louisiana trial court granted the manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment, stating, “The oil well, itself, was not unreasonably dangerous for its reasonably anticipated use; because it’s [sic] anticipated use was for pumping oil and not riding.” An intermediate appellate court reversed because it could not “conclude that the scintilla of direct evidence presented by [the child’s mother] was insufficient to allow a reasonable juror to conclude [the manufacturer] … should have expected an ordinary person in the same or similar circumstances to use or handle the pumping unit in this way.”

The state law governing the lawsuit permits liability for “damage proximately caused by a characteristic of the product that renders the product unreasonably dangerous when such damage arose from a reasonably anticipated use of the product by the claimant or another person or entity.” According to the supreme court, “what constitutes a reasonably anticipated use is ascertained from the point of view of the manufacturer at the time of manufacture … [and] the use of the words ‘reasonably anticipated’ effectively discourages the fact-finder from using hindsight.” When the pump was designed and made in the 1950s it was “manufactured solely for the purpose of extracting oil from the ground, and not for an amusement park ride.” Any misuse of such pumps shown by cases the plaintiff submitted from other jurisdictions “involved occurrences well after the date the pump was manufactured.”

Thus, the court determined that the plaintiff would be unable to satisfy her evidentiary burden of proof at trial because “on the state of the evidence, reasonable persons could reach only one conclusion, i.e., riding the pumping unit was not a reasonably anticipated use of the unit at the time it was manufactured.” Granting the manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim with prejudice.