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NJ products liability lawsuit to be decided by U.S. Supreme Court

Ten years ago, New Jersey metalworker Robert Nicastro was operating a shearing machine at his job at Curcio Scrap Metal. Suddenly, his right hand slipped into the path of the machine's blade, which sliced through four of his fingers. Since then, the now-59-year-old has undergone eight surgeries on his hand and has lost multiple fingers.

In 2003, Nicastro filed a New Jersey products liability lawsuit against the machine's manufacturer, J. McIntyre, and the company's U.S. distributor, McIntyre America. In his suit, Nicastro claims that the machine's safety guard was inadequate and that its failure was responsible for his injuries. After several New Jersey state courts issued conflicting rulings on the case, Nicastro's suit made its way to the United States Supreme Court.

The manufacturer does not deny that its product was defective. However, McIntyre executives claim that they are not legally responsible for injuries in New Jersey because they had no way of knowing that their product would ever be sold and used in the state. Therefore, the company says, it cannot be held liable under New Jersey state law, and Nicastro can only file a lawsuit against the company in its home country, the United Kingdom, or Ohio, the location of the now-defunct U.S. distributor.

In response, Nicastro's attorney cites a legal theory known as "stream of commerce", under which a manufacturer is liable for injuries in a state if it knows or has reason to know that its products will be used in that state. In previous years, this was often cut and dry: if a company marketed or sold a product in a state, it was liable. But with today's global economy, the path from manufacturer to consumer is not always so clear.

According to Alex Ross Jr., Nicastro's attorney, to forbid consumers from suing a foreign company in the state where an injury occurred would be to give all such companies a "free pass" from liability for defective products. The Supreme Court will decide whether that is the case when it hands down its ruling in the coming months.

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury from a defective product, please contact Breslin & Breslin for a free consultation.

Source: The Star-Ledger, "N.J. lawsuit over severed fingers leads to U.S. Supreme Court case on product liability", Leslie Kwoh, 23 February 2011

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