If a design flaw in fish tank caused it to break, what damages can I expect to be reimbursed for?

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If a design flaw in fish tank caused it to break, what damages can I expect to be reimbursed for?

I bought a fish tank from a local fish store about 6 months ago. About5 days ago, the front of the tank cracked during the night. This resulted in about 15 gallons of water spilling onto the carpet. After spending the remainder of the night and the whole next day, drying/pulling up carpet and attempting to save my marine life, I went to the place where I purchased the tank. The kind people there contacted the tank manufacturer (someone local and I cannot recall the exact name) and explained what had happened to my tank. The manufacturer said that there was a problem with the support brace of the tank and that others had had problems. The company’s new tanks all include an added support to the top to prevent this problem. The manufacturer told me that he would repair my tank for free but did not care about the damages that resulted from his defective product. All I want is reimbursement for the clean up ($400 roughly), lost wages from the following day ($136), lost marine life ($200), and the considerable amount of time and effort (6 months worth) to establish a mature saltwater tank. First off, do I have a case? Are my requests reasonable?

Asked on July 21, 2011 Texas

Answers:

S.L,. Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

The damages you are requesting were all caused by the defective fish tank and are reasonable and recoverable.

This area of law is called  product liability.  You could sue the manufacturer of the fish tank and the seller (store where you purchased the fish tank) for negligence and strict liability.

Negligence is based on the failure to exercise due care (that degree of care that a reasonable manufacturer would have exercised under the same or similar circumstances to prevent foreseeable harm).  Negligence requires duty of care, breach of duty (defective product), actual cause, proximate cause, damages.  Actual cause means but for the fish tank cracking would you have incurred the damages to the carpet, loss of marine life, etc.?  If the answer is no, which appears to be the case, actual cause has been established.  Proximate cause means were there any unforeseeable intervening events which would relieve the manufacturer of liability?  If the answer is no, which appears to be the case, proximate cause has been established.  Since manufacturer has admitted there was a design defect in the tank, that establishes that manufacturer was negligent.

Strict liability imposes liability whether or not there was due care.

Manufacturer and seller (store) are both liable even if the seller could not have known the product was defective.

Negligence and strict liability are separate causes of action (claims) in your lawsuit.  You could also include additional causes of action for breach of warranty.  If the tank was covered by an express warranty (written warranty), breach of that warranty if applicable would be another cause of action.  An additional cause of action would be for breach of implied warranty of merchantability.  The implied warranty of merchantability means the product is of a quality that is acceptable in the trade.  Since the tank cracked, it is not of a quality acceptable in the trade.  You might also have another cause of action for breach of implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose.  This means the fish tank was designed to hold the water and marine life and it failed to do that.


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