There is a tragic case out of New York City this week that could be the basis for a product liability action. Roman Pirozek Jr., 19, virtually decapitated himself with his own remote-controlled Trex 700 helicopter when it cut off a piece of his skull and slashed his throat.
Pirozek is the vice-president of a local hobby club and has posted YouTube videos of his exploits with his $1,500 helicopter. The six-pound RC helicopter has a blade span of 62 inches with a rotor that spins at more than 2,000 rpm.
His father witnessed the horrific scene.
From a torts perspective, the question is one of a design defect and whether the helicopter should be able to cause such injury. This is a toy that can be purchased by any individual without a license or a permit. That creates the high likelihood of “foreseeable misuse” – misuse of a product that must be considered in its design. The danger here is clearly not only to the user but to people in the area where these toys are used. It is not enough to warning, as appears on many ads for the Trex 700, that “Users must have a certain concept of security to operate the R/C helicopters.
Be sure to read and comply with related safety notes of instruction manual before flying.” The manual for the company states that it is the sole responsibility of the users to avoid damage or injuries, but that is not the way it is viewed from a product liability perspective.
If one of these helicopter can slash a throat and cut through a skull, the question is whether it can be sold as a toy. Pirozek and others use these toys in parks and open areas with pedestrians. I understand that most are very careful but obviously there will be a certain percentage of those who misuse the product or act recklessly.
Assumption of the risk clearly looms large in such a case. The strongest product case would be to a pedestrian. This was an experienced user who likely knew of the dangers. Yet, the company also knows of the stunts and dangerous manuevers common in the use of these toys as shown on YouTube. What do you think?