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Collins v. Sunnyside Corp.

OPINION FILED JULY 25, 1986.

BARBARA COLLINS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

SUNNYSIDE CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Thomas J. O'Brien, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE PINCHAM DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, Barbara Collins, appeals from a summary judgment in favor of defendant, Sunnyside Corporation. Plaintiff burned her leg while using acetone, a liquid manufactured by defendant, to clean paint spots from floor tile in the utility room in her home. Plaintiff purchased the acetone from Bob's True Value hardware store.

Acetone is an extremely flammable liquid and its vapors can ignite. The warnings on the acetone container which plaintiff purchased were as follows:

"ACETONE

Sunnyside Acetone is a powerful, fast evaporating chemical. These characteristics make it a valuable solvent for industrial and home use. It is widely used as a solvent for celluloid, various resins, epoxies, vinyls, lacquers, contact cements, plastics, dopes and adhesives. Because Acetone is a very strong solvent, it may be harmful to some materials. Always test before using to avoid damage. ____________________________________________________ CAUTION CONTAINS ACETONE

Keep away from heat, sparks and open flame. Avoid rubbing; friction may cause static electric sparks. Avoid contact with eyes or skin. Avoid breathing of vapor or spray mist. In case of eye contact, flush thoroughly with water and get medical attention; for skin contact, wash thoroughly. Close container after each use. Do not transfer contents to unlabeled containers. Vapors may ignite explosively. Extinguish all sources of ignition during use and until all vapors are gone.

Use only with adequate ventilation.

KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN."

Plaintiff poured acetone in a bucket, mopped the floor with it, and after a few minutes, the floor ignited in a series of explosive "puffs." The ignition source was a pilot light located beneath the water heater in the utility room. The flames traveled from the water heater across the floor. Plaintiff's left leg was burned by the flames.

Plaintiff filed suit against Sunnyside and Bob's True Value store in which she alleged that the acetone was unreasonably dangerous or defective because the warnings on the can did not adequately inform plaintiff of the extreme flammability of acetone. Bob's True Value store was dismissed as a defendant from this action. Defendant Sunnyside then filed a motion for summary judgment in which it asserted that the warnings on the one-gallon container of acetone plaintiff purchased were sufficient.

In granting defendant's motion for summary judgment, the trial court stated that the affidavit of defendant's expert, Roger Petty, which was presented in support of the summary judgment motion, was not rebutted by a counteraffidavit from plaintiff to create an issue of fact. Petty, defendant's director of manufacturing, stated in his affidavit that the "cautionary language" on Sunnyside's one-gallon containers of acetone "was prepared with reference to the recommended labeling" of several private, trade and United States governmental agencies, which Petty named.

In granting defendant's motion for summary judgment, the court stated:

"[W]here the product could be unreasonably dangerous as a result of inadequate warnings, that is a proper area for expert testimony. * * * The motion for summary judgment is supported by an affidavit of an expert in regard to the fact that the warnings are correct, not the sufficiency of their oath. That is only argument.

* * * [T]he court believes that this is an area that is the proper subject of expert opinion. Sanders vs. Frost is a case that allowed or affirmed the granting of the summary judgment where no counter-affidavit ...


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