The opinion of the court was delivered by: McCLURE, District Judge.
On December 23, 1996, plaintiff Travis L. Shouey commenced this
action with the filing of a complaint against defendants Stanwood
Corporation and Standard Knitting Mills, Inc. After some
confusion about the proper party defendant, a second amended
complaint was filed on July 24, 1997, naming defendant Duck Head
Apparel Co., Inc. Shouey, a minor bringing this action through
Sharline Litz, his parent and natural guardian, alleges that he
was injured while wearing a shirt manufactured by Duck Head's
predecessor in interest. On August 25, 1984, Shouey apparently
was playing with a lighter when the shirt caught fire. He asserts
claims for negligence/gross negligence (Count I), breach of an
implied warranty (Count II), and strict products liability (Count
On October 6, 1997, Duck Head filed a third-party complaint
alleging that Litz was negligent in leaving the lighter where
Shouey could have access to it and for failing to supervise
Shouey. On June 18, 1998, with leave of court, Duck Head filed a
third-party complaint alleging that third-party defendant Zippo
Mfg. Co. was liable to Duck Head because the lighter manufactured
by Zippo caused the injury to Shouey.
Before the court are motions for summary judgment filed by Duck
Head and Zippo.
Summary judgment is appropriate if the "pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with
the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as
to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R.Civ.P. 56(c) (emphasis
. . [T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates
the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time
for discovery and upon motion, against a party who
fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the
existence of an element essential to that party's
case, and on which that party will bear the burden of
proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be `no
genuine issue as to any material fact,' since a
complete failure of proof concerning an essential
element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily
renders all other facts immaterial. The moving party
is `entitled to judgment as a matter of law' because
the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient
showing on an essential element of her case with
respect to which she has the burden of proof.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-324, 106 S.Ct.
2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).
The moving party bears the initial responsibility of stating
the basis for its motions and identifying those portions of the
record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact. Celotex at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. He or she can
discharge that burden by "showing . . . that there is an absence
of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex at
325, 106 S.Ct. 2548.
Issues of fact are genuine "only if a reasonable jury,
considering the evidence presented, could find for the non-moving
party." Childers v. Joseph, 842 F.2d 689, 694 (3d Cir. 1988)
(citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106
S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)). Material facts are those
which will affect the outcome of the trial under governing law.
Anderson at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505. The court may not weigh the
evidence or make credibility determinations. Boyle v. County of
Allegheny, 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998). In determining
whether an issue of material fact exists, the court must consider
all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Boyle at 393; White v. Westinghouse Electric Co.,
862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988).
If the moving party satisfies its burden of establishing a
prima facie case for summary judgment, the opposing party must do
more than raise some metaphysical doubt as to material facts, but
must show sufficient evidence to support a jury verdict in its
favor. Boyle at 393 (quoting, inter alia, Matsushita Electric
Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586,
106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986)).
The facts underlying what occurred are, for the most part, not
the subject of dispute. On August 25, 1984, Travis Shouey was
four years old. Prior to that time, Shouey had only minor medical
problems, but later was diagnosed as having SEDLD, partial
retardation, and attention deficit disorder. Shouey lived in an
apartment with his mother, Litz, sister, Muriel Yaw Dunkle, and
stepfather, Luther Shouey.
On that date, Litz lit a cigarette with a Zippo lighter and
placed the lighter and cigarette pack on an end table. She then
went to the front door in response to a knock. The children, who
had been playing with water in the bathroom, joined their mother
at the door. While his mother was at the door talking to a
neighbor, Shouey asked if he could change out of his wet shirt
and went to his room to do so. He put on a shirt manufactured by
Duck Head's predecessor in interest. The shirt was a T-shirt,
children's size large (14-16),
light blue with dark trim and a "Fuller Brush" advertisement on
the front. It had been found in a laundromat by a friend of Litz,
who allowed Shouey to wear it, although it was loose, baggy, and
hung from Shouey's body.
When Shouey did not return to the front door, Litz sent Dunkle
to find him. Dunkle informed Litz that Shouey was sitting alone
in the living room watching television. The end table with the
lighter and cigarettes was next to the chair occupied by Shouey.
Two weeks earlier, Shouey's natural father had allowed him to
play with an empty lighter. Believing that it was permissible to
play with the Zippo lighter, Shouey picked it up and began
flipping the wheel while holding the lighter close to his body.
Apparently, the lighter ignited and the shirt caught fire.
Shortly thereafter, Litz discovered Shouey on fire and
extinguished the flames with a blanket.
Any additional facts will be discussed in the context in which
they are, or may be according to at least one party, material for
purposes of summary judgment.
Duck Head moves for summary judgment with respect to the
negligence claim because the T-shirt was not used as sleepwear,
it met federal standards of flammability for children's
sleepwear, and there is no evidence that a warning would have
changed the course of events.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania recently summarized the state
law*fn1 of negligence as follows:
To establish a cause of action in negligence, the
plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant owed a
duty of care to the plaintiff, the defendant breached
that duty, the breach resulted in injury to the
plaintiff, and the plaintiff suffered an actual loss
or damage. Reilly v. Tiergarten Inc., 430 Pa. Super. 10,
14, 633 A.2d 208, 210 (1993), alloc. denied,
538 Pa. 673, 649 A.2d 675 (1994). Negligence is the
absence of ordinary care that a reasonably prudent
person would exercise in the same or similar
circumstances. Lanni v. Pennsylvania R. Co.,
371 Pa. 106, 88 A.2d 887 (1952). See also Pa. SSJI
(Civ) 3.01. The mere occurrence of an accident does
not establish negligent conduct. Butler v. City of
Pittsburgh, 113 Pa.Cmwlth. 406, 410, 537 A.2d 112,
114, alloc. denied, 519 Pa. 655, 546 A.2d 60
(1988). Rather, the plaintiff has the burden of
establishing, by a preponderance of the evidence,
that the defendant engaged in conduct that deviated
from the general standard of care expected under the
circumstances, and that this deviation proximately
caused actual harm. Hamil v. Bashline, 481 Pa. 256,
392 A.2d 1280 (1978).
Martin v. Evans, 551 Pa. 496, 501, 711 A.2d 458, 461 (1998),
As to the claim for gross negligence, such is not a separate
claim because there are no degrees of negligence under
Pennsylvania law. Ferrick Excavating and Grading Co. v. Senger
Trucking Co., 506 Pa. 181, 191, 484 A.2d 744, 749 (1984).
Rather, there are different standards of care which are not
generally applicable in negligence cases. Id. at 191-192, 484
A.2d at 749 (degree of care relevant in bailment cases depends on
which party, bailor or bailee, benefits from the bailment).
Moreover, gross negligence is not relevant to damages because the
standard for punitive damages is a higher degree of culpability.
SHV Coal, Inc. v. Continental Grain Co.,
526 Pa. 489, 495, 587 A.2d 702, 705 (1991), reargument denied.
We therefore will address Count I as asserting simply a claim of
Duck Head's argument in this context is primarily that it had
no reason to know that the T-shirt would be used as children's
sleepwear. We fail to see how the argument is pertinent, since
the T-shirt plainly was not being used as sleepwear at the time
that Shouey was burned. The question is not whether its use as
sleepwear was foreseeable, but whether its use by a child and
potential exposure to flames was foreseeable.
Duck Head recites, "If the makers of such common clothing are
required to plan for the potential of the occurrence of accidents
such as the one at issue in this case, `we might all be reduced
to wearing asbestos clothing' due to clothing manufacturers' fear
of liability." Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment at
8. In support of this proposition, Duck Head cites Keirs v.
Weber Nat'l Stores, Inc., 352 Pa. Super. 111, 117, 507 A.2d 406,
409 (1986). In that case, an adult was wearing a baseball jacket
which was doused with gasoline and set ablaze. He sued under a
theory of strict products liability. The Superior Court upheld
the trial court's conclusion that the jacket could not be found
defective "for not minimizing the effects of a fire set after the
garment was doused with an accelerant." Id. at 117, 507 A.2d at
408. The case represents an application of the risk-utility or
Azzarello test, discussed below in the context of strict
products liability. Succinctly stated, the Superior Court held
that a manufacturer need not foresee the possibility of
inadvertent spills of highly flammable liquids or misuse of a
product by dousing with such liquids, followed by exposure to a
source of fire.
The situation described in Keirs varies significantly from
the facts of this case. The wearer in Keirs was an adult and
the clothing was soaked with an accelerant. The wearer in this
case was a child and the clothing itself caught fire. In fact,
the language of Keirs is contrary to the proposition for which
it is cited by Duck Head:
We do not suggest for a moment that clothing should
not be designed with an eye toward the possibility
that it might catch fire during the course of
routine, day to day activities. Indeed, such
obligation was generally found in those cases
allowing recovery for injuries from clothes that did
not adequately retard fire, and the public has been
made acutely aware of the increased duty placed upon
the makers of babies' pajamas, to cite just one
Id. at 117, 507 A.2d at 408-409.
Duck Head also points out that the T-shirt was rated Class 1
Normal Flammability. The fact that the garment needed to be
tested for the rate at which it would burn suggests rather
strongly that the manufacturer owes a duty to the user to provide
a product that does not burn unreasonably quickly or in some
other especially harmful manner, as by generating extraordinary
heat or by melting. However, the fact that a fabric meets the
federal standards for flammability does not affect the existence
of (i.e. does not pre-empt) a common law cause of action.
O'Donnell v. Big Yank, Inc., 696 A.2d 846 (Pa.Super. 1997),
reargument denied, allocatur denied, 725 A.2d 182 (Pa. 1998)
As a corollary, Duck Head argues that it did not owe a duty to
warn because the product was not "unreasonably dangerous,"
language usually associated with strict products liability
analysis (again, discussed below). In Overbeck v. Cates,
700 A.2d 970 (Pa.Super. 1997), reargument denied, allocatur denied,
553 Pa. 682, 717 A.2d 534 (1998) (table), the Superior Court held
that a person who supplies a chattel to another may be liable
under a negligence theory for physical harm caused by the use of
the chattel if the supplier (1) knows or has reason to know that
the chattel is in a dangerous condition, (2) has no reason to
believe that those for whose
use the chattel is supplied will realize the dangerous condition,
and (3) fails to warn those for whose use the chattel is supplied
of the dangerous condition. Id. at 972 (quoting RESTATEMENT
(SECOND) OF TORTS, § 388).
Shouey's theory of liability in this case is that the T-shirt
was highly flammable and that Duck Head (or its predecessor in
interest) had reason to know of such, and failed to provide a
reasonable warning. The T-shirt did not have to be "unreasonably
dangerous," but only of such a nature as to cause the potential
user to be "endangered by its probable use." Id.
Duck Head's final argument relating to the negligence claim is
that there is no evidence that Litz would have heeded the
warning. Duck Head first points out that Litz testified during
her deposition that she knew that clothing such as the T-shirt
would ignite if it came into contact with fire. Again, the
question is the rate at which the T-shirt burned, not just that
it burned (i.e. whether it was fire retardant, not fireproof).
Duck Head also cites Mattocks v. Daylin, Inc., 78 F.R.D. 663
(W.D.Pa. 1978),*fn2 a case also involving a minor injured by
flammable clothing, for the proposition that a plaintiff must
produce evidence that the parent would have read and heeded a
warning. Actually, addressing the plaintiff's contention that she
was entitled to a presumption that she would have read and
adhered to a warning, the district court noted that the plaintiff
had testified that it was not her practice to read such labels,
apart from washing instructions. Mattocks at 665-666. Moreover,
recent authority suggests that a plaintiff is entitled to a
presumption such as that argued by the plaintiff in Mattocks.
In Pavlik v. Lane Limited/Tobacco Exporters International,
135 F.3d 876, 883 (3d Cir. 1998), a strict products liability
action based on a failure to warn, the Third Circuit noted that
comment j to RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS, § 402A, is
applicable under Pennsylvania law. Comment j provides that a
seller is entitled to assume that a warning will be read and
heeded. The problem with an instance of no warning or
insufficient warning is that causation is difficult to prove: the
plaintiff must demonstrate what would have happened or what
might have happened, as opposed to what actually did happen.
Id. at 882-883. The Third Circuit pointed out that it logically
follows from comment j that a user is entitled to an
evidentiary presumption ...