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Manufacturers Must Notify Consumers About Dangers Associated With Product Use

January 14, 2016

A case before the Ontario Court of Appeal, Stilwell v. World Kitchen Inc., 2014 ONCA 770, regarding negligence and resulting in damages, served to highlight the deference given to civil jury decisions. 

A Dutch oven, created and sold by World Kitchen, shattered in the hands of the complainant, Stilwell, while he was washing it in the sink. As a result of numerous injuries and surgeries, the complainant was unable to work. His spouse also lost work in order to take care of her husband. The complainant commenced an action against World Kitchen in 2002, citing breach of warranty and negligence. Corning was added as a defendant in the following years. 

The case was decided in Stilwell’s favor, despite him being found partially responsible. World Kitchen Inc. and Corning Inc. were ordered to pay Stilwell $1,132,850, of which $25,000 was for aggravated damages. His spouse was also awarded $25,000 for her losses of care, guidance, and companionship. 

The appeal process was commenced by Corning Inc., following the dismissal of their motion to dismiss the claims brought against them on the basis that they were commenced following the six-year limitation period. They also argued that there was a lack of evidence suggesting their liability, and that World Vision should be found entirely liable. In terms of the aggravated damages, World Kitchen and Corning were both arguing that an error at trial occurred when the judge instructed the jury on aggravated damages. The respondents conceded to this, and asked that the aggravated damages be considered as part of the general damages. The appeals court decided to set aside the $25,000 aggravated damages entirely, but dismissed Corning Inc.’s remaining appeal on the dismissal of their motion. 

This case not only points to the need for appellate courts to defer to civil jury decisions, but also reinforces to manufacturers the need to properly warn consumers of any dangers associated with product use. 

From the court document:

[36] The appropriate degree of judicial deference to be applied in the consideration of jury answers and verdicts was described by Laskin C.J.C. in his dissent in Wade v. C.N.R., [1978] 1 S.C.R. 1064, at pp. 1069-1070:

Appeal Courts do not fine-comb jury answers but accord them the respect of a common sense interpretation even where there may be some ambiguity in the answers…. It is always timely to be reminded that juries do not write reasons for judgment, and their answers must be taken against the background of the evidence from which they are entitled to select, without manifesting their selection, what is credible, what is significant, what is persuasive to them. It is very often easy for an appellate Court, in the leisurely scrutiny of the transcript, to find significance in pieces of evidence to contradict jury findings, and in so doing to usurp the jury’s function. What an appellate Court may believe from a reading of the transcript may be the very things which a jury disbelieved or believed in part only. It is one thing to interfere with a jury’s verdict where there is simply no evidence to support its findings or to support a critical one; it is a different thing, and not to be encouraged, to interfere with its findings where there is evidence, however slight, on which they may be based, but where because of offsetting evidence a question of credit and weight arises. These are matters for the jury alone.

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