Parish v. Jumpking, Inc.
719 N.W.2d 540 (Iowa 2006)

Facts:

  • P attempted to do a back somersault on a trampoline, but he landed on his head and was rendered a quadriplegic.
  • He sued Jumpking on theories of defective design of the trampoline and negligence in failing to warn of the danger in using it.
  • P did not offer an alternative design; rather, he argued a trampoline is so inherently dangerous that a reasonable design alternative is not available. He relied on Restatement (Third) of Torts: Prod. Liab. § 2 comment e:
    • “The designs of some products are so manifestly unreasonable, in that they have low social utility and high degree of danger, that liability should attach even absent proof of a reasonable alternative design.”

History:
The defendant moved for summary judgment, which was granted, and the plaintiff appealed.

Issue:
Whether the “manifestly unreasonable” exception applied, thus not requiring P to show the existence of a reasonable alternative.

Holding:
No. Affirmed.

Reasoning:

  • The wording of section 2(b) and virtually all commentary on it suggest that this exception should be sparingly applied.
    • Additionally, while comment e recognizes the possibility that egregiously dangerous products might be held defective for that reason alone, the Restatement has noted that “a clear majority of courts that have faced the issue have refused so to hold.”
  • Moreover, suits involving common and widely distributed products are more likely than others to require the showing of a reasonable alternative. Restatement (Third) section 2(b) comment d:
    • “Common and widely distributed products such as alcoholic beverages, firearms, and above-ground swimming pools may be found to be defective only upon proof of a reasonable alternative design…Absent proof of defect under those Sections, however, courts have not imposed liability for categories of products that are generally available and widely consumed, even if they pose substantial risks of harm.”
  • Here, it is undisputed that trampolines are common and widely distributed products.
    • Ironically, in terms of injuries, they rank behind common activities as basketball, bicycle riding, football, soccer, and skating.
  • “We conclude that the plaintiff has failed to generate a genuine issue of fact sufficient to except this product from the alternative-design requirement of section 2(b), and the plaintiff’s design-defect claim under that section must therefore be rejected.”

Rule: In design defect cases, the “manifestly unreasonable” exception to the Restatement should rarely be used, if at all – especially in cases of common and widely distributed products (e.g., alcohol, guns, above ground swimming pools).