The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey has once again confirmed a recent trend in consumer fraud class actions based on product liability claims: if the essence of the claim is harm caused by an allegedly defective product, then it is governed exclusively by the New Jersey Product Liability Act (PLA), and is not suitable for class treatment.

In Piemonte, et al. v. Viking Range, LLC, et al., the plaintiffs sued on behalf of a putative class of all New Jersey consumers, alleging that certain Viking refrigerators contained defective door hinges that could detach unexpectedly. The complaint alleged, among other claims, violations of the PLA for personal injury and property damage, as well as the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (CFA), presumably for economic loss. The court concluded that “the essence of Plaintiffs’ claim is that they purchased a defective product that caused them damage—allegations which fall within the scope of a traditional products liability claim.” Consequently, the court dismissed the CFA claim as subsumed by the PLA, the sole cause of action under New Jersey law for harm caused by a product.

Piemonte is the most recent in a series of cases highlighting that plaintiffs who seek to enhance garden variety economic loss claims with more serious allegations of physical harm risk having their claims subsumed by the PLA and rejected for class treatment. In most cases, unlike Piemonte, plaintiffs plead only a CFA claim, expressly disclaiming personal injury. Even then, when the essence of the claim is the potential harm from a product, it is governed by the PLA, and New Jersey courts will look past such artful pleading to dismiss those claims as well.

For a more detailed discussion of this trend in New Jersey law, please see “Plaintiffs Pick Your Poison: Curtailing CFA Claims Premised on Traditional Product Liability Risks,” an article published in DRI's The Voice on November 3, 2010, by Ballard Spahr attorneys Neal Walters and Michael R. Carroll.

Ballard Spahr’s Product Liability and Mass Tort and Consumer Class Action groups have substantial experience defending consumer class actions, including economic loss, consumer fraud and warranty claims. For more information, please contact Neal Walters at 856.761.3438 or waltersn@ballardspahr.com, Michael R. Carroll at 856.761.3452 or carrollm@ballardspahr.com, or Michele C. Ventura at 856.873.5513 or venturam@ballardspahr.com. 


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