(CN) – A Bic lighter was not to blame when a 5-year-old boy accidentally set his 6-year-old sister’s dress on fire, the Texas Supreme Court ruled, tossing out a $3 million award from Matagorda County.
After a jury trial, the court awarded $3 million in actual damages and $2 million in exemplary damages to the burned girl, Brittany Carter, and her mother, Janace Carter. The jurors found both manufacturing and design defects in the Bic J-26 lighter.
The 13th Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi affirmed the actual damages but threw out the exemplary damages, finding Carter did not prove malice.
After the Texas Supreme Court found that federal law pre-empted a claim of defective design, the 13th Court of Appeals was directed to review judgment on defective manufacturing but affirmed it anyway.
Taking another look, the Austin-based state Supreme Court reversed and sided with Bic, finding “that no evidence supports the finding that a manufacturing defect caused Brittany’s injuries.”
Writing for the court, Justice Phil Johnson found “that the evidence is legally insufficient to support the finding that a manufacturing defect caused Brittany’s injuries.”
In her original complaint, Carter claimed that the shield force and the fork force components on the lighter were different than the specifications Bic had furnished to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and that the lighter needed less force than indicated to operate.
The court concluded that Carter did present sufficient evidence that the lighter did not meet manufacturing specifications, but agreed with Bic’s claims “that even if the subject lighter deviated from specifications, Carter failed to prove that the deviation was a producing cause of Brittany’s injuries.”
“A producing cause must be a cause in fact; that is, it must be a substantial factor in bringing about the injury, and a cause without which the injury would not have happened,” Johnson wrote. “There must have been some evidence that the fire that burned Brittany started because of the specific manufacturing defects and that absent those defects Brittany’s injuries would not have occurred. …
“The facts of this case are unfortunate. Nevertheless, we must apply established legal principles in reviewing the parties’ positions. In applying those principles, we conclude there is legally insufficient evidence to support the finding that manufacturing defects in BIC’s subject lighter were a cause-in-fact of Brittany’s injuries.”