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Wasko v. R.E.D.M. Corp.

Decided: June 11, 1986.

BERNADETTE C. WASKO, ET ALS., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
R.E.D.M. CORPORATION, ET ALS., DEFENDANTS



Arnold, J.s.c.

Arnold

[217 NJSuper Page 192] In this strict liability and negligence action, based on an allegation of failure to warn of the dangers of a product, defendant requests that the court instruct the jury concerning the "knowledgeable user" defense. Specifically, defendant requests this court to instruct the jury that the supplier of a dangerous product has no duty to warn a "knowledgeable user." Under the facts of this case, the court adopts such a

defense because the entire class of users of the product are skilled professionals or otherwise "knowledgeable users," despite New Jersey's apparent rejection of the doctrine in Campos v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., 98 N.J. 198 (1984).

This is a wrongful death and personal injury action brought on behalf of the estates of four soldiers and two living soldiers who were killed or injured in an explosion at Fort Dix, New Jersey on March 17, 1983. These soldiers were disposing of detonators and rotor body assemblies containing detonators shipped by defendant, R.E.D.M. Corp., to the United States Army. They were in the process of preparing the detonators and rotor body assemblies for demolition when the explosion occurred and they were killed or injured. All of the men were members of the 60th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit which was stationed at Fort Dix.

Defendant is in the business of assembling M-739 fuzes for the United States government. An M-739 fuze is a bullet shaped cylindrical object tapering to a point with a nontapered end threaded so that it can be screwed into the head of an artillery round. It contains a complex triggering mechanism for exploding the charge within the artillery round. This triggering mechanism includes a safe and arming device which contains a rotor body assembly containing an M-55 detonator. These M-55 detonators, which are supplied to R.E.D.M. by the Department of Defense in boxes containing 50 detonators, are very sensitive. All the other parts of the rotor body assembly are made by subcontractors. Defendant assembles the various parts and the M-55 detonators to build the rotor body assemblies.

A small percentage of rotor body assemblies fail final inspection for several reasons. Some may have defective gearing. In others, the M-55 detonator may have been placed in the assembly backwards or sideways so that it is distorted or fractured. After several years of manufacturing M-739 fuzes, defendant had accumulated a substantial number of defective rotor body

assemblies. In addition, defendant had accumulated a substantial number of boxes of M-55 detonators which, although not assembled in rotor body assemblies, had to be destroyed. A box of M-55 detonators is considered defective if inspection reveals a single defective detonator in a box received from the government. Furthermore, defendant had accumulated a large number of defective fuzes. All these defective items had to be destroyed and pursuant to an agreement with the government they were sent to the 60th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit at Fort Dix, New Jersey to be destroyed.

"Explosive Ordnance Disposal" ("EOD") is defined by the United States Army as the

detection, identification, field evaluation, rendering safe, recovery and final disposal of unexploded explosive ordnance. It may also include the rendering safe and/or disposal of explosive ordnance which have become hazardous by damage or deterioration when the disposal of such explosive ordnance is beyond the capabilities of personnel normally assigned responsibility for routine disposal.

The training for the EOD branch of the Army is highly technical and very comprehensive. EOD training begins at Red Stone Arsenal, Alabama, where each soldier undergoes instruction in biological and chemical munitions. Candidates then go on to the naval EOD school in Indian Head, Maryland for training in conventional ordnance including an in-depth training program on explosives, safety precautions, and handling and use of explosives. The course then covers more complex munitions including training on how to recognize and perform operations with them. Finally, there is a program in nuclear weapons. After successful completion of this basic EOD training, a soldier becomes EOD qualified. Training also continues in an EOD unit on a day-to-day basis. In addition, every two years all units are required to go to the Red Stone Arsenal, Alabama, for a unit refresher course. Furthermore, individual soldiers are required to undergo refresher training.

Before the defective explosive devices were shipped to the 60th EOD, Sgt. James K. Offenbecher of that unit went to defendant's plant to inspect ...


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