Legrand Power Strips Can Cause Electrical Shock and Result in Product Liability Claims

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On September 9, 2012, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced a recall of more than 14,000 Legrand Power Strips.  The Model PX1001 Legrand Power Strips were found to have electrical wires reversed on the receptacles, creating a risk of electrical shock to the users.  This model, which was part of Legrand’s “Wiremold” product group, was designed for under cabinet use.  It was sold through several retail outlets, including Ace Hardware, Home Depot, and True Value Hardware stores. Manufacturing defects like the ones in these power strips are particularly dangerous, because the hazard cannot be detected by the consumer.  If injuries result from the defect, the injured person will have what lawyers refer to as a “product liability claim.” Product liability claims are categorized into three groups:  manufacturing defects, design defects, and warning defects.  Warning defect cases are probably the most common.  In a warning defect case, the consumer must show that the manufacturer knew or should have known that the was a foreseeable risk of injury, but that the risk was not obvious to the public.  These cases involve difficult, fact-intensive inquiries into what was known by the manufacturer and what the consumer should have recognized as a potential hazard. Design defects are somewhat less common, but they when they occur, they often grab the headlines, because thousands of products can be sold before the design defect is discovered.  One of the most famous examples of a design defect occurred in the Ford Pinto, where the design of the car placed the gas tank in a position where it was more likely to explode in a rear-end collision.  In a design defect case, the consumer must prove that there was a safer alternative design that could have been employed by the manufacturer. In a manufacturing defect case, like the ones likely to arise from the Legrand Power Strips, the manufacturer actually concedes that there was a safer design, and that the manufacturer actually intended to use the safer design.  However, due to oversights or errors that occur during the manufacturing process, the manufacturer fails to build the product in the way that its designers intended.  In some cases, a manufacturing defect can occur in a single product, while thousands of properly-made products come from the same plant.  This can occur by something as innocuous as a plant worker failing to tighten a screw.  In such cases, the consumer tries to prove that the manufacturer caused the defect by failing to employ appropriate quality control procedures. The recent recall of these dangerous power strips is unusual, because it involved a manufacturing defect on thousands of units.  It is also significant because the defect was directly related to the main functional purpose of the power strip — preventing the unintended flow of electrical power through the device.  When a safety device like a power strip fails because of a manufacturing defect, causing a severe injury like an electrical shock or an electrocution, a jury is likely to find that the manufacturer is liable for the injuries that resulted. Sources: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, “Legrand Wiremold Recalls Power Strips Due to Electrical Shock Hazard,” Release #12-274. Restatement (2d) of Torts Section 388.