Court of Appeal: Adhesive supplier liable for damage suffered by kitchen door manufacturer
An adhesive company has failed to appeal a finding of liability against it in a claim for damages brought by a kitchen door manufacturer based in Cookstown.
It was found by an independent expert in the High Court that the glue supplied by the adhesive company was not suitable for use with the MDF used by the door manufacturer, and the trial judge was satisfied that the adhesive company failed to appreciate the significance of the wax content in the MDF or its impact on the adhesive. Dismissing the appeal, the Court of Appeal said that the adhesive company’s complaints about the trial judge’s ratio was misconceived.
BA Kitchen Components Ltd is a manufacturer of kitchen cupboard doors based in Cookstown. Jowat (UK) Ltd is a supplier of adhesives based in Staffordshire.
In May 2003, following a proposal from Jowat, BA Kitchen Components commenced using an adhesive supplied by Jowat. From October 2005, BA Kitchen Components began receiving a significant number of complaints from customers that the PVC wrap covering its MDF doors, stuck on by Jowat’s adhesive, was detaching. BA Kitchen Components eventually ceased using Jowat’s product in 2007.
BA Kitchen Components complained that Jowat, with knowledge of its manufacturing process, supplied an adhesive that was unsuitable and not fit for purpose, and further was unsuitable and unfit for use with MDF. BA Kitchen Components claimed against Jowat for damages for breach of contract, negligence, breach of statutory duty, misrepresentation and negligent misstatement in relation to the supply of adhesives for use in the manufacture of kitchen doors.
Jowat pleaded that the adhesive was suitable for use and fit for purpose if applied correctly and in sufficient quantities, and that any delamination was a result of BA Kitchen’s failure to manufacture the doors properly or make proper use of the adhesive and in particular to apply sufficient adhesive.
The issue in the case was the liability between the parties.
In the High Court, the experts for Jowat and BA Kitchen Components disagreed on the cause of the delamination. As such, an independent expert was appointed to assist the court, who concluded that the MDF interface was the locus of failure – the adhesive was “not able to penetrate sufficiently far into it to form a sufficiently robust layer of fibre reinforced resin composite to withstand the delamination forces”.
The expert added that water and wax diffusing from the MDF would gradually “find their way back into the interface and by lubricating the fibres would cause these to be teased out of the surface with subsequent failure of the laminate”.
On the balance of probabilities, Lord Justice Ronald Weatherup was satisfied that the cause of the delamination of the kitchen doors resulted from the use of the adhesive supplied by Jowat. He said that the hypothesis of the court appointed expert was the explanation for the problem, and Jowat had “failed to appreciate the significance of the wax content of the MDF and its overall effect on the adhesive”.
Lord Justice Weatherup noted that Jowat’s representatives had approached BA Kitchen Components to promote their adhesive as suitable for use in its product.
Concluding that it was an implied term of the contract that the adhesive supplied would be suitable for use by BA Kitchen Components in their products and with its equipment (subject to the appellant’s specifications), Lord Justice Weatherup said that Jowat’s failure to have any or adequate regard to the effect of the present of wax in the MDF was a breach of contract, that this failure was the cause of the delamination o the doors, and that the breach was the cause of damage to BA Kitchen Components.
In all the circumstances, Lord Justice Weatherup found for BA Kitchen Components on liability.
Court of Appeal
Jowat complained that the court:
- Did not have evidence to draw the conclusions which formed the ratio of the trial judge’s decision on liability; and/or
- Fell into an error of law by failing to properly explain the issues which were critical to the trial judge’s decision in a way which allows the reader to understand why he reached the decision which he did.
Firstly, the Court of Appeal identified the ratio of the High Court judgment and said that the operational part of the ratio was Lord Justice Weatherup’s conclusion that Jowat had “failed to appreciate the significance of the wax content of the MDF and its overall effect on the adhesive”. The Court of Appeal said that Jowat’s objections (including that this was not a sufficient explanation, or that undue weight was given to the independent expert’s opinion), stemmed from “the misconception that the trial judge had to decide which expert hypothesis was the best one and then set out his reasons for that finding”
The Court of Appeal was satisfied that there had been a measure of consensus between the experts that the presence of wax from the MDF was important, that wax had well-known adhesive-weakening properties, and therefore would impact the effectiveness of an adhesive. The court said that the question of how this impact happened was not legally relevant to the outcome of the present case.
The Court of Appeal also found that it was clear from Lord Justice Weatherup’s judgment that he was satisfied on the basis of evidence that a failure rate of 6% constituted damage.
Overall, the Court was satisfied that Lord Justice Weatherup had addressed all legally relevant issues arising, and that the right questions were answered with reference to the available evidence. Lord Justice Weatherup’s judgment benefitted from “a total absence of prolixity” and displayed “an impressive clarity” especially given the large amount of expert evidence.
Concluding that Jowat’s appeal was misconceived because it misunderstood the ratio of the case, the Court dismissed the appeal.
- by Seosamh Gráinséir for Irish Legal News
© Irish Legal News Ltd 2019