Valdosta Judge Allows Defective Pressure Cooker Lawsuit to Proceed

Pressure cookers were first developed in the 17th century. They create an airtight environment where steam pressure raises the boiling point of water, allowing food to cook much faster than normal. Of course, the buildup of pressure can lead to an explosion if the cooker itself is somehow defective.

Williams v. Tristar Products, Inc.

In an ongoing federal lawsuit, Williams v. Tristar Products, Inc., a Georgia woman alleges that a defective pressure cooker exploded in her home, causing her severe second-degree burns. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was using a PC-WAL1/TRI-6 pressure cooker, which had been a Christmas gift from her mother. The plaintiff said she had used the pressure cooker on three previous occasions without incident, and that she always followed the manufacturer’s directions.

On the day in question, however, the plaintiff said the cooker started to emit a “humming and buzzing noise” she had never heard before. The plaintiff said she then pressed a “cancel” button on the cooker. The lid of the device then “suddenly” popped off, causing the food and steam inside the cooker to explode onto the plaintiff.

The plaintiff subsequently filed a product liability lawsuit against Tristar Products, which sold the PC-WAL1/TRI-6 cooker in the United States. Tristar replied by filing a motion for summary judgment, in effect asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit. Among other reasons, Tristar said it could not be held liable as the “manufacturer” under Georgia law, as the pressure cookers were actually produced by another company in China.

U.S. Senior District Judge Hugh Lawson denied the defense motion of Valdosta, however, and said the plaintiff’s case could proceed to trial. Although the judge agreed that under Georgia law, only a “manufacturer” could be held strictly liable for a defective product, it was possible for a seller to “become a manufacturer” if there is evidence it had “input” or was “actively involved in the conception, design, or specification of a product.”

Here, the plaintiff produced evidence that Tristar did more than simply resell pressure cookers that it purchased from China. In fact, Tristar “had staff monitoring production in China” and even “created an Asian division engineering team that worked directly with factories to manage product development, inspection, and testing of products.” It would be up to a jury to decide if this and other aspects of Tristar’s operation qualified it as a manufacturer.

Likewise, Judge Lawson said the jury would need to weigh the evidence that the pressure cooker was actually defective and qualified as the “proximate cause” of the plaintiff’s injuries. Tristar maintains it must have been user error on the plaintiff’s part–i.e., that she failed to close and lock the pressure cooker’s lid properly before she started cooking. Although the plaintiff was alone at the time of the accident so there were no eyewitnesses to confirm her account, the judge reiterated it was the jury’s role to decide whether her testimony was credible.