Law Office Not Liable For Injuries Caused By Office Chair Collapse

September 12, 2008

The Supreme Court of Alaska has ruled that a law office is not liable for ordinary negligence and strict products liability when an overweight person is injured by an office chair that collapsed.

According to Charles Burnett v. Kenneth Covell, Charles Burnett went to the Fairbanks, Alaska, law offices of Kenneth Covell in May 2002 to participate in a meeting with Covell and one of Covell’s clients. Upon sitting on one of the office chairs, Burnett, who weighed approximately 330 pounds, was injured because the chair collapsed.

Covell had owned the chair since he bought the practice in 2000. Thus, Burnett filed a complaint against Covell for negligence.

Covell argued that he wasn’t aware of any chair defects, and thus there was insufficient evidence for a negligence claims.

But Burnett also claimed Covell was liable under a products liability theory. He sought to recover damages and costs including medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and other damages.

The Superior Court concluded that Covell was not strictly liable under a products liability theory because products liability applies only to the manufacturer, seller or distributor of the defective product, and Covell was just the produce owner. The court also held that Covell did not breach his duty of ordinary care because there was no evidence that he was aware of the chair’s condition at the time of the collapse, or of any environmental factors that may have caused the collapse.

The Supreme Court agreed with the Superior Court decision, noting that “Because strict liability does not extend to a business owner who provides furniture for use by a visitor or client, and because there is no material fact in dispute, suggesting evidence sufficient to establish that Covell acted negligently in maintaining
his property, we affirm the superior court’s order dismissing this case with prejudice,” the court wrote.

Source: Alaska Courts

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