721 F.3d 842 (7th Cir. 2013), 12-2616, Ferraro v. Hewlett-Packard Co.

Docket Nº:12-2616.
Citation:721 F.3d 842
Opinion Judge:WOOD, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Patricia FERRARO, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. HEWLETT-PACKARD COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee.
Attorney:Christopher J. Goril (argued), Ambrose & Associates, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant. Brian J. Hunt, Attorney, Hunt Law Group, Chicago, IL, Anthony A. Agosta (argued), Clark Hill, Detroit, MI, for Defendant-Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before MANION and WOOD, Circuit Judges, and BARKER, District Judge. [*] MANION, Circuit Judge, concurring.
Case Date:July 03, 2013
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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721 F.3d 842 (7th Cir. 2013)

Patricia FERRARO, Plaintiff-Appellant,



No. 12-2616.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

July 3, 2013

Argued Jan. 24, 2013.

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Christopher J. Goril (argued), Ambrose & Associates, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Brian J. Hunt, Attorney, Hunt Law Group, Chicago, IL, Anthony A. Agosta (argued), Clark Hill, Detroit, MI, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before MANION and WOOD, Circuit Judges, and BARKER, District Judge. [*]

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WOOD, Circuit Judge.

Patricia Ferraro suffered serious burns on her arm after falling asleep next to the power adapter of her newly purchased Hewlett-Packard (HP) laptop computer. She filed a product liability suit against HP, alleging that her injury resulted from a design defect that allowed the power adapter to overheat. She also claimed that HP failed to include adequate warnings about the power adapter's propensity to overheat and that HP breached an implied warranty of merchantability. At the close of discovery, HP moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted in full.

The court concluded that Ferraro would be unable to show that the power adapter was " unreasonably dangerous," a required element of her design defect claim. Under Illinois law, there are two alternative methods of establishing that element: the " consumer-expectations test" or the " risk-utility test." The district court found Ferraro's evidence insufficient to meet her burden under either one of them. On appeal, Ferraro argues that the district court erred only in concluding that she would be unable to prove unreasonable dangerousness under the consumer-expectations test. She has not challenged the district court's determination that HP was entitled to summary judgment under the risk-utility test, nor has she appealed the district court's dismissal of her defective warning and implied warranty claims. This puts her in an impossible bind. Under Illinois law, the risk-utility test " trumps" in design defect cases if the two methods of establishing unreasonable dangerousness yield conflicting results. Because the district court's finding that she could not succeed under the risk-utility test furnished an independent and unchallenged ground for the decision, we affirm.


In May 2006, Ferraro purchased a new HP DV800 Notebook laptop from a local Best Buy store. One week later, while sitting on her sofa and using her laptop, she noticed that the battery was running low. Ferraro shut down the laptop, placed it on a nearby coffee table, and plugged the laptop's power cord into the wall. Midway along the cord is the power adapter, a brick-shaped plastic device housing a transformer, which converts AC electricity from the outlet into DC electricity used by the laptop. Ferraro propped the power adapter on the arm of her sofa, began reading a book, and fell asleep around 10:00 p.m.

At some point during the night, the power adapter slipped from the sofa's arm, falling between the cushions. As Ferraro slept, the exposed skin of her right forearm came to rest against one of the adapter's surfaces. It is unclear how long Ferraro's skin was in direct contact with the adapter, but she eventually awoke with painful blisters at the point of contact. Ferraro treated the burn with cold water and wrapped her arm with gauze, but she was unable to fall back asleep because of the pain. Ferraro, a Chicago police officer, reported to work early the next morning. She received some medical attention at a fire station while patrolling her beat and went to an emergency room at 3:00 p.m. once her shift ended. Doctors diagnosed her with second- and third-degree burns.

Ferraro filed suit against HP (and against Best Buy, which is no longer part of this dispute) in 2008, asserting claims based on strict product liability and implied warranty of merchantability. For purposes of her strict product liability theory, she alleged that the laptop was defectively designed because it " overheat[ed] during normal and foreseeable use" and

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that it lacked " adequate or sufficient warnings." During discovery, each side presented three expert witnesses, whose proffered testimony we now summarize.

Ferraro's first expert was Peter Poczynok, a mechanical engineer and litigation consultant. After reviewing the power adapter, HP manuals, and deposition transcripts, Poczynok concluded that HP should have included additional warnings with the laptop or the adapter and that HP should have designed the adapter differently to reduce the amount of heat it generated. He suggested that the transformer could have been housed inside the laptop itself, as opposed to inside the external power adapter; that the adapter could have included a built-in fan to help vent heat; that the adapter could have been manufactured with a " heat shield" ; and that the box housing the adapter could have been larger to allow for greater air circulation.

Nathaniel Johnson, an electrical engineer who measured the heat generated by the power adapter under various conditions, was Ferraro's second expert. Johnson first took the power adapter's temperature when it was operating on a flat tabletop surface; the adapter reached a temperature of 58.5 degrees Celsius (137.3 degrees Fahrenheit) after 90 minutes. Johnson then covered the top of the adapter with a cotton towel, and the temperature rose to 77.2 ° C (170.96 ° F). Johnson opined that these temperatures...

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