CLEVELAND (CN) - An archer injured by a shattering fiberglass arrow can pursue a defective manufacturing claim against the arrow's distributor, a federal judge ruled.
Trevor Cawley sued Eastman Outdoors Inc. in December 2013, more than a year after a South Korean-made fiberglass arrow distributed by Eastman "shattered upon release and pierced [his] left hand and thumb.
Cawley underwent several surgeries to remove shards of the fiberglass arrow and to repair tendons and ligaments in his hand.
His complaint quotes his doctor who says that while Cawley's injuries have healed "quite well" since the accident, the archer nevertheless has permanent scarring, a decreased range of motion and decreased grip strength in his hand and continuing pain.
Fragments of fiberglass also occasionally migrate and pierce Cawley's skin, as not all of the pieces could be surgically removed, the complaint says.
Cawley claimed the arrow shattered because of a design defect. He sought compensatory and punitive damages for product liability, breach of warranty, strict liability, negligence and gross negligence.
In its response to Cawley's claims, Eastman Outdoors pointed out that "each arrow had a warning printed on it advising the user to visit www.safearrow.com, a website that gives instructions and warnings ... [that] advise the user to inspect the arrow for any scratches, gouges, dents, cracks or other similar damage that could compromise the integrity of the arrow."
Cawley claimed he had visited the site, but that there were no warnings that specifically mentioned the possibility of "explosive failure."
The company's expert analyst concluded that Cawley's extended use of the same arrows over a period of two years resulted in the damage that caused the arrow to shatter.
In considering the company's motion for summary judgment, U.S. District Judge James Gwin determined that Cawley's common law negligence, breach of warranty, strict liability and gross negligence claims must be dismissed, as they are preempted by the Ohio Product Liability Act.
Gwin then shifted his focus to the merits of the product liability claim, and the expert testimony provided by Dr. Scott Beckwith on behalf of Cawley.
He wrote: "Beckwith examined both the arrow that shattered and injured plaintiff, and another arrow from the same batch that plaintiff had used for about the same amount of time. He observed that the arrows contained a large amount of 'void' content - essentially bubbles in the carbon fiber that 'impair [the arrow's] strength for its intended use.' Based on his observations, he concluded that the arrow that injured plaintiff shattered because there 'was a defect in the [arrow's] manufacturing and/or a defect in the manufacturing process." The judge also noted that Eastman's expert witness provided conflicting testimony that the observable damage came from Cawley's repeated use of the arrow.
J Gwin concluded that "there is a general issue of material fact as to whether there was a manufacturing defect in the arrow that injured plaintiff. ... [I]n this battle of experts, it is the jury's job to decide between the conflicting opinions over what caused plaintiff's injury."
Eastman also sought to dismiss Cawley's request for punitive damages, and sought to refute the archer's claim that its inspection policies were inadequate.
Here too Gwin ruled in Cawley's favor, concluding that "whether punitive damages should be awarded is a question for the jury ... [and,] taking all inferences in favor of plaintiff, it is possible that defendant was aware of potential problems with its arrows given the claims against it and yet did not implement adequate inspection procedures until 2009."
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