What was the case about?
Mr Michael Hufford brought proceedings against Samsung based on allegations that he was supplied with a defective fridge freezer.
The appliance in question was purchased in 2007. On New Year's Eve 2009, Mr Hufford hosted a celebratory lunch with his parents at his home and then left to attend a party with his girlfriend. He returned the next day to discover that a fire had destroyed his house.
The seat of the fire was found to be in the kitchen but there was a dispute over the actual cause of the fire.
- Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service reported that the fire most likely originated from inside the fridge freezer.
- Mr Hufford contended that the fire was caused by a fault within the fridge freezer and argued the appliance was defective within the meaning of s.3 of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 ('CPA') as it had caught fire during normal use.
- In its defence, Samsung relied on Mr Hufford's heavy smoking habit to argue that the fire originated externally from the appliance due to the ignition of combustible materials left in front of the fridge freezer.
What were the issues?
The central issue before the court was whether or not the appliance was 'defective' within the meaning of the CPA. Section 3 states:
"...there is a defect in a product...if the safety of the product is not such as persons generally are entitled to expect..."
The concept of 'expectation' is rather nebulous and the key to proving a claim under s.3 often comes down to the cause of the damage. The court therefore had to decide what the probable cause of the fire was based on the evidence of the parties and their experts.
What did the Court decide?
In determining causation, the court focused its attention on:
- The history of the appliance;
- The forensic expert evidence on the pattern of fire damage; and
- The witness evidence of the claimant.
It found in favour of Samsung that combustible material in front of the fridge freezer had ignited first and there was consequently no defect in the appliance.
The court held that the claimant had failed, in this instance, to discharge his burden of proof. It was not enough for Mr Hufford to assert that the seat of the fire was at or around the product in order for the court to draw an inference of a defect. The claimant needed to also prove that the fire was started by the product itself (i.e. show the fire began within the product). If Mr Hufford had been able to overcome this initial burden of proof, his task would have then become easier as there was no legal requirement for him to point to a specific defect in the product.
What are the implications for future cases?
The application of s.3 of the CPA has historically produced quite unpredictable results. The phrase: "not such as persons generally are entitled to expect..." has fuelled a long-standing debate on how far a claimant must go to prove that the product was defective. Helpfully, the court in Hufford v Samsung has provided clarity on the evidential thresholds for proving that a "defect" exists and has set out a clear framework within which judges will examine and assess the evidence.
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