Jaime Jackson and Attorney Larry Coben from Anapol Weiss are sharing their knowledge of Pennsylvania Product Liability Law through a series of webinars and articles. This article shares some of the basic concepts about Products Liability Law in Pennsylvania.
Who are the potential defendants in a products liability case? They can be any company who manufactured, sold, distributed, leased, rented, or imported a defective product.
This is because a company has a duty to design, manufacture, distribute, lease, or sell products that are not defective. If a product was defective when it left the defendant’s control, the defendant is liable for the harm caused by the defect. This is true even if the defendant took all possible care in the design, manufacture, distribution, lease, or sale of the product. Pennsylvania calls this strict liability.
Definition of Strict Liability: Consumer Expectation Test and Risk Utility-Benefit Tests
The consumer expectation test and the risk utility test can both be used to prove a design defect. As such, the plaintiff may proceed under one or both tests according to Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., 104 A.3d 328, 383-87 (Pa. 2014).
Design defect under the Consumer Expectation Test
Under the consumer expectation test, the plaintiff must prove that the product had a condition that was dangerous beyond “an ordinary consumer’s expectation” during normal or foreseeable use. The jury may consider the following factors to determine whether a product’s condition was defective under this test:
- the nature of the product;
- the identity of the user;
- the product’s intended use;
- the intended user of the product; and/or
- any express or implied representations by the defendant.
Design defect under the Risk-Utility Test
Under the risk-utility test, the plaintiff must prove that a reasonable person would conclude that the probability and seriousness of the harm caused by the product outweigh the burden or cost of taking precautions to prevent the harm from occurring. The jury may (but is not required to) consider any of the following factors when deciding whether a product is defectively designed under the risk-utility test:
- The usefulness and desirability of the product—its utility to the user and to the public as a whole.
- The safety aspects of the product—the likelihood that it will cause injury, and the probable seriousness of the injury.
- The availability of a substitute product, which would meet the same need and not be as unsafe.
- The defendant’s ability to eliminate the unsafe character of the product without impairing its usefulness or making it too expensive to maintain its utility.
- The user’s ability to avoid danger by the exercise of care in the use of the product.
- The user’s anticipated awareness of the dangers inherent in the product and their availability because of general public knowledge of the obvious condition of the product, or of the existence of suitable warnings or instructions.
A product may be defective in the way it is designed or manufactured
Under a theory of manufacturing defect, “a product which caused injury to a consumer became actionable if it left the manufacturer’s control in a ‘defective condition unreasonably dangerous.’” Id. at 387 (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 402A(1)). In proving a claim for manufacturing defect, a plaintiff must show that the defect existed when the product left the manufacturer and that it was a proximate cause of the injury. Dansak v. Cameron Coca-Cola Bottling, Co., 703 A.2d 489, 495 (Pa. Super. 1997).
Pennsylvania’s standard jury instruction 16.15 details the elements of a manufacturing defect:
“A product contains a manufacturing defect if the product differs from the manufacturer’s design or specifications or from other typical units of the same product line.” Pa. SSJI (Civ.) 16.15.
The explanation section of the jury instruction cites Barker v. Lull Eng’g Co., 573 P.2d 443, 454 (Cal. 1978) for the proposition that, “a manufacturing or production defect is readily identifiable because a defective product is one that differs from the manufacturers’ intended result or from other ostensibly identical units of the same production line.” Id. (emphasis added). Thus, a product has a manufacturing defect if it deviates in a material or significant way, in terms of its quality, from the product unit’s planned output.
Products that companies sell must be safe for people to use. Consequently, companies who sell unsafe or products that hurt people should be held accountable for the damages caused.
Jaime Jackson has more than twenty years of proven experience with products liability cases. If you or a loved one have been injured or killed because of a defective product, or if you are a plaintiff personal injury attorney looking for insight, you can contact us here .