Case Law: Strict Liability


    Wiley v. Young (1965)


    Wiley v. Young (1965)

    • A product can be defective for
    • purposes of a strict liability claim in three ways:

    • (1) defects in manufacturing;
    • (2) design defects; or
    • (3) defects in instructions or warnings.

    • A plaintiff may properly plead and prove more than one theory of defect in a single lawsuit, even with respect to the same injury caused by
    • the same product.
    Kate v. Drago Manufacturing (1993)

    HINT: When is it a manufacturing defect?
    • Kate v. Drago Manufacturing (1993)
    • A product has a manufacturing defect when it is created or sold in a way that deviates from its intended design.
    • For example, a product missing a particular part called for by the manufacturing specifications has a manufacturing defect, as does a product where an unintended part has been used in place of an intended one.
    Zemler v. Wiik (1980)

    HINT: When is a product is defectively designed?
    Zemler v. Wiik (1980)

    • A product is defectively designed when:
    • (a) the product as designed is not reasonably safe; or
    • (b) the foreseeable risks of harm posed by the product could have been reduced or avoided by the adoption of a reasonable alternative design.

    Bower v. Romano (1989)

    HINT: When a product has an “instructions or
    warnings defect”?
    • Bower v. Romano (1989)
    • A product has an “instructions or
    • warnings defect” when:

    • (a) the omission of certain instructions or warnings
    • renders the product not reasonably safe; and
    • (b) the foreseeable risks of harm posed by the product could have been reduced or avoided by providing reasonable instructions or warnings.
    Lehnhoff v. Hunter Agricultural Supply (2007)

    HINT: presence or absence of warnings does what?
    Lehnhoff v. Hunter Agricultural Supply (2007)

    • The presence of some instructions or warnings does not necessarily defeat a strict liability claim and the
    • absence of any instructions or warnings does not necessarily render a product defective based on a failure-to-instruct-or-warn theory. The threshold
    • question in every case is whether the product as manufactured or sold—which includes the instructions or warnings that were or were not provided—was reasonably safe.
    Taylor v. Teske Boating International (2006)
    HINT: how are the types of product defect claim related?
    • Taylor v. Teske Boating International (2006) Although the three types of product defect claims described in Wiley v. Young are distinct, a defendant’s satisfaction of one duty may be relevant in assessing whether it has satisfied another duty. The safer a product is designed, the fewer instructions or warnings may be necessary. In contrast, clear, conspicuous, and thorough instructions or warnings may, to some extent,
    • reduce the risks posed by design hazards, and may in appropriate circumstances preclude liability on a defective design theory.
    Leighton v. Westwick (1972)
    HINT: how determine whether product is reasonably safe?
    • Leighton v. Westwick (1972)
    • The determination of whether a product is reasonably safe requires weighing the foreseeable risk of harms posed by the product as manufactured or sold against the product’s utility.
    Wade v. John Dean Co. (2005)
    HINT: what to consider with risk/utility?
    • Wade v. John Dean Co. (2005)
    • In strict liability cases where risk/utility
    • is at issue, the jury should consider the following factors:
    • (1) the usefulness and desirability of the product to the user and to the public as a whole;
    • (2) the likelihood that the product will cause injury, and the probable seriousness of the injury;
    • (3) the availability of a substitute product which would meet the same need and render the product safe;
    • (4) the defendant’s ability to eliminate the unsafe character of the product without unreasonably impairing its usefulness or making it too expensive; (5) the user's ability to avoid danger by the exercise
    • of care;
    • (6) the user's anticipated awareness of the dangers inherent in the product and the avoidability of those dangers.
    Murray v. Goranin Toy Co. (2000)
    • Murray v. Goranin Toy Co. (2000)
    • The knowledge and expectations of a reasonable consumer must be considered in deciding whether a product is reasonably safe.

    For example, a reasonable consumer understands that knives are used to cut things, that alcohol produces intoxication, and that heavy objects may cause injury if bashed against a person’s skull. A product is not unsafe when it poses dangers that would be obvious to a reasonable consumer and can be avoided through the exercise of reasonable prudence.
    Vitan v. Goddard (1971)

    HINT: for what should defendant be held liable?
    • Vitan v. Goddard (1971)
    • In deciding if a product is reasonably safe, a defendant should be held liable only for foreseeable risks, which entails consideration of both the product’s intended users and its intended use. A defendant cannot be held responsible if a small child attempts to use a kitchen knife to pry the lid off a jar because the child is not the intended user of the knife and knives are not intended to be used in that manner.
    Ramsden v. Heikkila (2002)

    what does intended user depend on?
    • Ramsden v. Heikkila (2002)
    • In a strict products liability action, whether a particular user or use is intended does not depend simply on the defendant’s subjective desires or unexplained directives. Instead, at least absent clear and reasonably specific warnings, a defendant also may be held responsible for the consequences of use by reasonably foreseeable users and reasonably obvious misuse. For example, a
    • defendant whose dining room chair collapses when a 90-pound child stands on it cannot escape liability simply by declaring that the chairs are for use
    • only by those over the age of 12 or that they are not designed to be stood upon.
    Renden v. Munson (1996)

    assessment of the safety versus carefulness and subjective intent
    Renden v. Munson (1996)

    • The question in a strict liability action involves an objective assessment of the safety of the
    • product as actually produced and sold, rather than the defendant’s carefulness or subjective intent. Thus, one sued on a strict liability theory may not escape liability simply by showing that she was not negligent or lacked intent to cause harm. Nonetheless, such evidence may be admissible for
    • other purposes. For example, evidence that a defendant was or was not aware of a particular type of risk is relevant to assessing the extent to which
    • that risk was foreseeable and the defendant’s consideration or failure to consider alternative designs (and the safety of those designs) may bear on the extent to which such an alternative would have been reasonable.
    Hunter v. Ma-Ma (2001)

    what may plaintiff not rely on?
    • Hunter v. Ma-Ma (2001)
    • In a strict product liability case, a plaintiff may not rely on the defendant's failure to comply with a statute as a basis for proving that the product was defective under Midlands Civil Code § 662.
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Case Law: Strict Liability
Case Law: Strict Liability