Idaho Supreme Court Vacates Summary Judgment for Pepper Spray Manufacturer
by Mark Wilson
On August 27, 2013, Idaho’s Supreme Court held that a lower state court improperly granted summary judgment to a pepper spray manufacturer on a prison guard’s product liability and inadequate warning label claims.
While on light duty for bronchitis, Idaho prison guard Billie Jo Major participated in a March 3, 2008 training exercise that required her to enter a cell that had been sprayed with bursts of oleoresin capsicum (OC) from an MK-9 Fogger manufactured by Security Equipment Corporation (SEC). “The MK-9 Fogger produces a widely dispersed aerosol designed to irritate and inflame the respiratory tract.”
Major alleged her respiratory problems worsened due to her exposure to the OC spray; she developed a chronic cough and claimed that “her health issues prevented her from working, caring for herself, or engaging in other activities.”
Major sued SEC in Ada County district court, claiming that the MK-9 Fogger was unreasonably dangerous and had inadequate warning labels and instructions.
The district court granted summary judgment to SEC, finding that “Major failed to show a genuine issue of fact regarding chronic injury that resulted from exposure to the pepper spray,” and that the MK-9 Fogger’s “warning label provided an adequate notice to Major regarding the acute effects of the spray.” The court also struck an affidavit from Major’s expert witness as a sham affidavit because it contradicted his deposition testimony without explanation.
The Idaho Supreme Court reversed the grant of summary judgment on both the causation and inadequate warning label issues, finding material facts in dispute and holding “the district court improperly granted summary judgment to SEC on whether the company had a duty to warn Major of possible chronic injury.”
The Supreme Court also reversed the district court’s sham affidavit order, noting that credibility issues may not be resolved on a motion for summary judgment and that the Court had “never adopted the sham affidavit doctrine.” Since “a sham affidavit finding necessarily turns on a credibility finding as well as a finding of bad faith,” the Court held that was “beyond the power of the trial courts at the summary judgment phase.” See: Major v. Security Equipment Corporation, 307 P.3d 1225 (Idaho 2013).
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Related legal case
Major v. Security Equipment Corporation
|Cite||307 P.3d 1225 (Idaho 2013)|
|Level||State Supreme Court|