Who is to blame when a wine bottle explodes while using a Coravin™? We’ve written about wine bottles breaking while opening before, but the invention of the Coravin™ poses a new problem. Wine bottles, by their very nature, are meant to be opened, that is to say, to have their corks pulled in order to access the wine. The Coravin™’s claim to fame is that it allows the consumer to access the wine without pulling the cork … i.e., without opening the bottle. Since its introduction in 2011, Coravin™ has taken the wine community by storm as the system allows wholesalers, restaurants and consumers to sample, taste and sell high end bottles of wine over a longer period of time. To access the wine, the Coravin™ injects a neutral gas into the bottle which pressurizes the bottle to extract the wine—presenting a potential problem. In some cases, the Coravin™ has caused bottles to explode, which can cause serious injury. Eater.com has reported that Coravin has stopped sales of the device and has taken a proactive response to reports of bottles exploding and issued specific warnings and is providing protective sleeves to place on the bottle while using the system. Note: We are not aware of any lawsuits or actions against Coravin, LLC as of the writing of this blog post.
So, when a bottle has burst while using a Coravin™, who is to blame? There are multiple potentially responsible parties: the bottle manufacturer that made the bottle, the winery that filled and sealed the bottle, the retailer that sold the bottle, the person who opens the bottle, and of course, the company that designed, manufactured, marketed and sold the device used to extract the wine without opening the bottle.
The key is to determine what caused the bottle to burst. Let’s assume that the pressure inside the bottle caused it to burst. We now need to determine how the bottle came to be pressurized. That is fairly simple, as the Coravin™ was used by someone to pressurize the bottle. That pretty much gets the bottle maker, winery and retailer off the hook as they did not intend for the bottle to be pressurized, but rather, to be opened by pulling the cork and pouring the wine.
Note: As Coravin™ use grows and bottle manufacturers, bottlers and wineries are aware of the use of pressurization of wine to pour from an unopened bottle, the use of a Coravin™ may become a “foreseeable misuse” for which the bottle manufacturer, bottler and winery may be liable.
That leaves us with the person “opening” the bottle and Coravin, LLC. There is certainly an argument to be made that the person using the Coravin™ bears the blame as they decided to not open the bottle of wine as intended, but rather to pressurize the bottle in order to pour wine without opening the bottle. Similarly, one could easily point the finger at Coravin™ who sold a device specifically designed to get around opening the bottle of wine, and marketed that product and system as a safe and effective way to pour wine without opening the bottle. In my opinion both parties are exposed to any claims for damages.
Now that Coravin has issued warnings and is providing a sleeve to use when using the Coravin™, the company may have viable defenses that may act to shift liability to the user.
Interestingly, Coravin™ is specifically warning folks not to use the system on damaged bottles, which strongly suggests that will be its defense in any case involving exploding bottles, i.e., that only damaged bottles explode. Indeed, Coravin has taken to twitter to state its position that damaged bottles are the cause and even boldly stated the cure:
However, damaged bottles do not just explode on their own – they may be more prone to breakage, but an intervening or superseding force will almost certainly be required to cause a damaged bottle to explode. In this case, the superseding cause would be the person who decided to use the Coravin™ and the Coravin™ system. Look for any case involving an exploding wine bottle to involve a “battle of the experts” on pressurization and explosion of wine bottles.
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