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Trent v. Brasch Manufacturing Co.

OPINION FILED APRIL 9, 1985.

LONDON TRENT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

BRASCH MANUFACTURING COMPANY, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Myron T. Gomberg, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE PERLIN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

London Trent, plaintiff, appeals from the dismissal with prejudice of count I of his amended complaint for failure to state a cause of action in strict liability in tort. Plaintiff filed a two-count amended complaint alleging that he was injured while "checking the thermostat" of the heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system (HVAC) in the Dearborn Park Plaza Building in Chicago. Plaintiff sought damages from defendants along the distributive chain of the HVAC who had manufactured, designed, distributed, sold, installed and serviced the "electric duct heater," "air handling unit," "control panel" and "fuses" of the HVAC.

Count I of the amended complaint was based on strict liability in tort and alleged that "said electrical devices" were "defective, unsafe and unreasonably dangerous for their foreseeable use," as a proximate result of which the electric duct heater and control panel "exploded," injuring plaintiff. Count II of the amended complaint, alleging similar facts, sounded in negligence.

Certain defendants filed motions to dismiss count I of the amended complaint contending that the instrumentalities of which plaintiff complained were not "products" within the ambit of strict liability in tort because they were "component and indivisible parts [of]" a building. The trial court agreed, and count I was accordingly dismissed with prejudice as to all defendants. At the close of the hearing on plaintiff's motion to reconsider, the trial court denied plaintiff's motion stating that "once that object, * * *, is attached to real estate; namely, a building, it is no longer a product for purposes of strict tort liability." Plaintiff appeals contending that the trial court erred in holding that because the HVAC was attached to a building it could not be labelled a "product" for purposes of strict liability in tort.

I

The primary issue before this court is whether the HVAC, having been installed in a building, may be deemed a "product" for purposes of strict liability in tort.

A brief review of the doctrine of strict products liability may be in order. In Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc. (1963), 59 Cal.2d 57, 62, 377 P.2d 897, 900, 27 Cal.Rptr. 697, 700, the case regarded as "the progenitor" (Lowrie v. City of Evanston (1977), 50 Ill. App.3d 376, 365 N.E.2d 923) of the doctrine, the California Supreme Court held that a "manufacturer is strictly liable in tort when an article he places on the market, knowing it is to be used without inspection for defects, proves to have a defect that causes injury to a human being." That court stated that the purpose of strict liability is "to insure that the cost of injuries resulting from defective products is borne by the manufacturers who put such products on the market rather than by the injured persons who are powerless to protect themselves." Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc. (1963), 59 Cal.2d 57, 63, 377 P.2d 897, 901, 27 Cal.Rptr. 697, 701.

In Suvada v. White Motor Co. (1965), 32 Ill.2d 612, 210 N.E.2d 182, the Illinois Supreme Court adopted the doctrine of strict liability in tort as set out in section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts. That section provides:

"(1) One who sells any product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer or to his property is subject to liability for physical harm thereby caused to the ultimate user or consumer, or to his property, if

(a) the seller is engaged in the business of selling such a product, and

(b) it is expected to and does reach the user or consumer without substantial change in the condition in which it is sold.

(2) The rule stated in Subsection (1) applies although

(a) the seller has exercised all possible care in the preparation and sale of his product, and

(b) the user or consumer has not bought the product from or entered into any contractual relation with the seller." (Restatement ...


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