In Mehner v. Furniture Design Studios, Inc., 2023 WL 2351688 (D. Neb. Mar. 3, 2023), the court granted summary judgment on product defect claims by a plaintiff allegedly injured by the collapse of a restaurant chair eight years after the manufacturer delivered it. This well-reasoned decision reminds us that even for fairly simple products, expert proof may be required to establish a defect – and failure to develop the factual predicate in discovery may leave the plaintiff without an opinion (and without a case). It also highlights important limitations in the “malfunction theory” that sometimes allows a plaintiff to proceed without expert proof or identification of a specific defect.
Plaintiff was eating at a restaurant in Omaha when his chair allegedly collapsed. He sued Furniture Design Studios (FDS), which designed, manufactured and sold the chair, asserting strict liability and negligence design defect claims.