An interesting issue that courts are taking a closer look at is whether plaintiffs can bring client claims for tort damages is whether a second product commonly attached to another to make a whole product constitutes one product in terms of damages for purposes of the economic loss rule. In a decision that appears to expand the economic loss rule, the court in OneBeacon Ins. Co. v. Deere & Co., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25156 (E.D. Mo. Mar. 11, 2011) considered the case of a combine that suddenly caught fire and destroyed the combine and damaged an attached cornhead. While the two formed an integrated harvesting unit, the plaintiff purchased the Deere & Co. combine and cornhead on separate occasions secondhand from a reseller with no warranty furnished by Deere & Co. The court reasoned that if the part of the whole could be considered part of the product, then the economic loss doctrine would bar the tort action. If the part of the whole was a separate product, then damage to the part would be “additional damage” and the economic loss doctrine would not apply. The court, examined the relationship of the combine and cornhead under three prevailing tests that look to whether the product is “integrated;” whether a commercial purchaser could foresee the risk of harm at the time of purchase; and whether the object of the bargain was for separate products. Ultimately, with electing any of the three tests, the court determined that because the cornhead could only be used with the Deere & Co. combine, the cornhead was not separate property and the economic loss rule precluded the tort claims.
Moreover, the plaintiff, as a secondhand purchaser of used equipment from another seller, did not have a warranty claim against Deere &Co., the manufacturer in tort. In concluding that the economic loss doctrine applies to secondhand purchasers, the court explained, “[p]laintiff’s reasoning- that the economic loss doctrine should not apply to secondhand purchasers because they cannot negotiate with the manufacturer- would apparently give secondhand purchasers a better warranty and more remedies than the party who originally purchased the equipment new. That cannot be the law.” Id.
The scope of the economic loss rule has important implications for buyers and sellers of goods. The traditional scope of cases governed by the economic loss rule to preclude recovery of tort damages would be those which are (1) governed by UCC Article two, and (2) where the only property damage (if any) is to the product that was purchased itself. But see, Lott v. Swift Transportation Co. Inc., F.Supp.2d 923, 931 (W.D. Tenn. 2010)(court declined to extend the economic loss doctrine, to cases “not involving UCC remedies, especially those concerning the provision of services”). In cases such as Tennis, the court did not apply the rule to damage to the property stored in the nearby warehouse that the vehicle fire destroyed. Yet, other courts such as Deere & Co. have expanded the doctrine when property might be seen as one product. Importantly, the Deere & Co. court observed that some courts have opened the door to allow for possible expansion of the doctrine even to “other nearby property of commercial purchasers who could foresee such risks at the time of purchase.” Deere & Co., supra, at *10 (emphasis supplied). See also, Travelers Indem. Co. v. Dammann & Co., Inc., 594 F.3d 238, 243-44 (3rd Cir. 2010)(tort claims barred “where a plaintiff could have contractually allocated the risk”). This is a potentially significant expansion of the doctrine, because it allows the economic loss doctrine to bar tort recovery even where there is additional harm or damage to other property, other than the product at issue in the lawsuit. As a result, this potential expansion of the doctrines’ application has important implications in the future of the doctrine and the sale of goods as a whole.