Liriano v. Hobart Corp.

700 N.E.2d 303 (1998)

Quick Summary

Quick Summary Icon

Luis Liriano (plaintiff) sued Hobart Corporation (defendant) after losing his hand in an accident involving a meat grinder, which lacked a warning about operating it without its safety guard—a guard that had been removed by his employer. The case focused on whether Hobart could be held liable for failing to provide adequate warnings despite alterations made by a third party.

The New York Court of Appeals held that manufacturers could indeed be liable under a failure-to-warn theory in such circumstances, emphasizing that providing warnings is less burdensome than ensuring a product cannot be altered and that users may not always be aware of the risks posed by such alterations.

Facts of the Case

Facts of the case Icon

Luis Liriano (plaintiff) was an employee at Super Associated grocery store where he suffered an injury leading to the amputation of his right hand and lower forearm. The incident involved a meat grinder manufactured by Hobart Corporation (defendant), which had its safety guard removed by the plaintiff’s employer.

Despite the removal of the safety guard, there was no warning on the grinder indicating the danger of operating it without the guard. After the accident, Liriano brought a lawsuit against Hobart, claiming the product was defectively designed and lacked proper warnings.

Hobart had sold the meat grinder with a safety guard in place, but became aware that many customers were removing these guards. In response to this knowledge, Hobart began issuing warnings on its meat grinders about the removal of the safety guard a year after the sale of the grinder involved in Liriano’s accident.

Liriano’s claim hinged on the lack of warning regarding the use of the grinder without its safety guard, which he argued contributed to his injury.

Procedural Posture and History

History Icon
  1. Liriano filed a lawsuit against Hobart in the Supreme Court, Bronx County, New York.
  2. The case was removed to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.
  3. The District Court dismissed all claims except those based on failure to warn.
  4. After a trial and retrial, liability was apportioned between Hobart, Super, and Liriano.
  5. Hobart appealed the decision, leading to a certification of a question by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to the New York Court of Appeals regarding manufacturer liability under a failure-to-warn theory when a design defect claim is precluded by a third party’s substantial product alteration.

I.R.A.C. Format


Issue Icon

Whether a manufacturer can be held liable under a failure-to-warn theory in products-liability cases when liability under a defective-design theory is precluded by a third party’s substantial alterations to the product.

Rule of Law

Rule Icon

A manufacturer may be found liable for failing to warn against foreseeable dangers arising from the product’s use, including dangers stemming from foreseeable alterations or misuse by third parties.

Reasoning and Analysis

Reasoning Icon

The court distinguished between design defects and failure-to-warn claims. While a manufacturer is not responsible for injuries resulting from substantial alterations that render a product unsafe (as established in Robinson v Reed-Prentice Div. of Package Mach. Co.), this does not inherently preclude liability for failure to warn.

The court reasoned that warning against foreseeable modifications is less burdensome than designing an unalterable product and that manufacturers are in a superior position to know and warn against such modifications.

Furthermore, if the risk is obvious or the user is already aware of it through general knowledge or observation, then a failure-to-warn claim may be less viable.

However, in cases where it is not clear how much the plaintiff knew about the risk, it becomes a question for the jury. The court also noted that requiring warnings for obvious dangers could dilute the effectiveness of necessary warnings for non-obvious hazards.


Conclusion Icon

The New York Court of Appeals answered affirmatively that manufacturer liability under a failure-to-warn theory can exist even when a design defect claim is precluded due to substantial product modification by a third party.

Key Takeaways

Takeaway Icon
  1. A manufacturer can be held liable for failing to warn about dangers resulting from foreseeable uses and alterations of its product.
  2. The burden of warning about product alterations is less than that of designing an unalterable product.
  3. Failure-to-warn claims may not be viable if the danger was obvious or if the user was already aware of the risk.
  4. The question of whether a danger is open and obvious is typically for the jury to decide unless only one conclusion can be drawn from the facts.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What are a manufacturer's responsibilities regarding unforeseeable product modifications by users?

A manufacturer’s responsibility generally includes foreseeing reasonable modifications and misuses of their product by consumers and providing suitable warnings for those. If an alteration is highly unforeseeable or beyond the scope of normal product use, the liability might not be as clear-cut.

  • For example: If a lawnmower is repurposed into a snowblower and the manufacturer had not indicated such a use is dangerous, they might not be held liable if this use was not reasonably foreseeable.

How does providing warnings for obvious dangers affect the effectiveness of warnings for non-obvious hazards?

Providing warnings for obvious dangers can inadvertently diminish the impact of warnings for non-obvious hazards. Over-warning may cause users to take all warnings less seriously, potentially leading to safety complacency and greater risk of harm from less apparent dangers.

Are manufacturers liable for injuries from risks that are general knowledge among users?

Manufacturers are less likely to be held liable for injuries resulting from risks that are considered general knowledge among users, assuming that the users should be aware of such dangers through common sense or experience.

  • For example: A manufacture might not be liable for injuries sustained from using a knife in an obviously improper way, such as cutting without regard to finger placement, which is general knowledge concerning knife use.


Last updated

Was this case brief helpful?

More Case Briefs in Torts