In Simmons v. Rave Motion Pictures Pensacola, LLC, the plaintiff attended a movie at a movie theater. During that visit, the seat in which he was sitting broke as the result of a failure of the welding on the bottom of the seat. The plaintiff fell through the seat and struck the floor, sustaining injuries. The plaintiff required surgery to address the injuries that he suffered during this accident. In his complaint, the plaintiff sued a number of entities, including the movie theater company and various construction companies that installed the seating equipment.
The defendants filed motions for summary judgment, claiming that the seat was not a product according to product liability law. Instead, the defendants argued that the chair should be categorized as an improvement to real property. Under this interpretation, strict liability would not apply. According to Florida product liability law, a product manufacturer is liable for any injuries that are the result of a design defect or manufacturing defect of its product. Unlike a negligence action, the plaintiff does not need to show carelessness or fault.
The plaintiff responded to the motion for summary judgment, claiming that the debate over whether the chair was a product or an improvement to real property was a material fact, rendering summary judgment inappropriate. The trial court agreed with the defendants and granted summary judgment regarding the plaintiff's strict liability claims.
On review at the First District Court of Appeal, the appellate court disagreed with the lower court's reliance on an earlier case in which a storage rack was deemed a product as opposed to an improvement to real property. In that case, the court determined that the storage rack was a product rather than an improvement because it could be disassembled and resold. Distinguishing this case, the appellate court concluded that another Florida case was more directly on point. In this case, the plaintiff was injured while using a conveyor built in a retail store. The conveyor lacked a pinch point protector and did not have a kill-switch control. The conveyor was deemed an improvement because it was an integral part of the store's infrastructure. Applied to the present case, the theater seating structure was considered an integral part of the movie theater and something that would be difficult to disassemble and resell. More specifically, the court noted that the seating system was installed during the original construction of the movie theater and that the entire system was bolted into the floor of the building.
As a result, the appellate court concluded that the lower court did not err in granting summary judgment for the defendants on the plaintiff's strict liability claims.
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