Many states have codified at least part of the state law regarding product liability, often based on a version of the Restatement of Torts. These statutes set forth who may recover and who is liable for a defective product. The South Carolina statute is based on the Second Restatement and provides for liability for injuries to the "ultimate user or consumer." S.C. Code Ann. § 15-73-10. In Lawing v. Univar USA, Inc., the South Carolina Supreme Court recently considered when an employee qualifies as a "user" for the purposes of the state's product liability statute and whether the sophisticated user defense is available in a case based on the inadequate labeling of a product.
Three employees of a manufacturing plant were severely injured in a fire that occurred while the plant was shut down for maintenance. The employees were using an oxyacetylene torch to cut some pipe when a piece of hot slag landed on or near a pallet of sodium bromate. The pallet erupted into a ball of fire. The three employees, along with the wife of one of them, filed suit against Univar USA, Inc., Trinity Manufacturing, Inc., and Matrix Outsourcing, LLC, all of whom were in the distribution chain for the sodium bromate purchased by the employer. The employer bought the sodium bromate from Univar, which sourced it through Trinity, which obtained it through Matrix from a Chinese manufacturer. The product was shipped from the manufacturer to the employer, and none of the defendants ever had it in its possession.
The lawsuits included claims for strict liability, negligence, and breach of the implied warranty of merchantability. One employee and his wife also had a breach of express warranty claim against Univar, as well as a loss of consortium claim for the wife against all of the defendants.