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Florida First DCA reverses jury verdict against synthetic marijuana manufacturer in failure to warn product liability case, holds that jury cannot consider proximate cause where a person responsible for the injury is voluntarily impaired or intentionally misuses a product.

On June 8, 2020, in DZE Corporation v. Vickers, No. 1D18-5081, the Florida First DCA reversed a trial court ruling denying the defendant, a manufacturer of synthetic marijuana, a directed verdict in a wrongful death lawsuit. The plaintiff was the personal representative of the estate of a mother and son who were killed in a motor vehicle accident allegedly caused by a third party who had consumed one of the defendant’s products prior to the accident. The product allegedly consumed, marketed as “potpourri,” was labeled by the defendant as “not fit for human consumption.” The case had proceeded to trial on theories of negligence and strict product liability, both premised on the defendant’s alleged failure to warn. At trial, the defendant made a motion for direct verdict arguing that no proximate cause could be proven because the at-fault driver’s intoxicated driving was the sole proximate cause of the deaths, which was denied. On appeal, the First DCA cited the decision of the Florida Supreme Court in Department of Transportation v. Anglin, 502 So. 2d 896, 898 (Fla. 1987), which held that even where an actor’s conduct creates a dangerous situation, the law will not allow a jury to find proximate cause where an unforeseeable, intervening act is responsible for the injuries. The First DCA stated that “[a]ny conclusion that DZE’s failure to warn was the proximate legal cause of the devastating crash that occurred requires speculation that DZE could foresee [the at-fault driver] would: 1) disregard the warning on the product and consume the potpourri; 2) become voluntarily intoxicated; and 3) drive recklessly in violation of the state’s criminal laws and cause an accident.” Furthermore, the First DCA observed that Florida law does not permit a jury to consider proximate cause where a person responsible for the injury is voluntarily impaired or intentionally misuses a product, citing Barnes v. B.K. Credit Service, Inc., 461 So. 2d 217, 219 (Fla. 1st DCA 1984) (holding tavern owner was not liable to plaintiff injured as a result of being intoxicated because the proximate cause of the injury was plaintiff’s voluntary act of rendering herself incapable of driving a vehicle), Cook v. Miller Coors, LLC, 872 F. Supp. 2d 1346, 1347–48 (M.D. Fla. 2012) (applying Florida law in holding alcoholic-beverage manufacturer was not liable under failure to warn theory for motorcycle passenger’s injuries because of the well-known risks of consuming alcohol), and Labzda v. Purdue Pharma, L.P., 292 F. Supp. 2d 1346, 1356 (S.D. Fla. 2003) (“the intentional misuse of an intoxicating product is the sole proximate cause of the injury under Florida law”).

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