Lecy v. Bayliner Marine Corp.
973 P.2d 1110 (Wash. Ct. App. 1999)

Facts:

  • Karen and Henry Lecy and Marco and Pamela Bacich set off on a pleasure cruise from Anacortes to the San Juan Islands.
  • They encountered a bit of a storm and went into the cabin.
  • While there, Henry Lecy apparently fell against the port-side cabin door.
  • Lecy and the door both went overboard. He drowned in spite of the rescue efforts of his companions.
  • Products liability claims based on strict liability and negligence were then asserted against manufacturer of yacht.

History:
At trial for the wrongful death action, the special verdict form read:

  • QUESTION NO. 1: Was the door system for the port side of the pilot house of the vessel Checkmate unreasonably dangerous as designed by Bayliner?
    • ANSWER: NO.
  • QUESTION NO. 6: Was the defendant negligent in the design of the door system in question?
    • ANSWER: YES.

Issue:
Whether a jury finding of no strict liability for design may be harmonized with a jury finding of negligent design.

Holding:
No. Case reversed.

Reasoning:

  • Because the instruction on unreasonably dangerous design required the jury to engage in risk-utility balancing, it simply cannot be argued that this inquiry did not involve consideration of the manufacturer’s conduct in designing the door system.
  • “We emphasize that our holding is limited to the situation where the jury finds a product not unreasonably dangerous as designed, but then purports to find that same product was negligently designed. We recognize that where, for instance, the jury is presented with a strict liability design defect claim and a negligent manufacture claim, a jury’s rejection of strict liability may not preclude its finding of negligence. Because the two bases of liability are separate and do not necessarily overlap, the jury may properly reject strict liability, yet find negligence.”
  • Basically, unreasonably dangerous design and negligent design involve the same consideration – i.e., the conduct of the manufacturer rather than the product itself.

Rule: A jury’s finding on strict products liability claim that a product was not unreasonably dangerous as designed precludes the jury from finding that the product was negligently designed.

  • Note: Does NOT apply to strict liability design defect claim and a negligent manufacture claim.