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Torts/Negligence – Products Liability – Trucking Communications Device – Wreck – Distraction – Duty – Foreseeability

Durkee v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc. (Lawyers Weekly No. 10-04-0520, 18 pp.) (Dennis L. Howell, U.S. Magistrate Judge) Recommendation. W.D.N.C.

Holding: A communications device manufacturer owed no duty to the plaintiffs who were injured in a wreck with a tractor-trailer, and the negligent misuse of a communications device by the truck driver was not reasonably foreseeable.

Facts& Analysis

The plaintiff was driving on the interstate. A truck driver operating a tractor-trailer became distracted while using a communications system manufactured by Geologic and ran into and over the plaintiff’s vehicle.

The plaintiff sued the manufacturer of the communications device.

Under G.S. Sect. 99B-(6)(a), the essential elements of a products liability claim based on negligence are: (1) duty; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) causation; and (4) damages.” Smith v. Wyeth-Ayerst Labs. Co., 278 F.Supp.2d 684 (W.D.N.C. 2003).


A review by the court of the plaintiffs’ complaint revealed no allegations of any relationship between the plaintiffs and Geologic.

There was no allegation that the communications device malfunctioned. The only allegations concerned misuse of the device by the truck driver.

The court could find no case law that would impose a duty on manufacturers to anticipate misuse of a product and design it to prevent misuse.

If such a legal duty could be imposed, “no vehicle would be capable of traveling above the speed limit, car ignitions would all be equipped with ignition interlock devices, and guns would not be sold to persons with poor judgment.”

“Simply because an action may have some degree of foreseeability does not make it sound public policy to impose a duty.” Williams v. Cingular Wireless, 809 N.E.2d 473 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004)


The risk of harm has to be both unreasonable and foreseeable in order to impose liability on a manufacturer.

The alleged failure of a truck driver to operate the vehicle with due care for his own safety as well as the safety of others cannot be ascribed to a company that manufactures a communications device that is used by the driver without due care. The duty owed by a product manufacturer “does not require him to guard against hazards apparent to the casual observer or to protect against injuries resulting from the user’s own patently careless and improvident conduct.

Dismissal recommended.

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