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Consumer Expectations in Product Liability Cases

December 5, 2017

Recently, the law governing Product Liability has changed, and the change could impact the outcome of your case.

In 2015, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the consumer expectations test is the appropriate standard under which design defect claims should be evaluated.  In Aubin v. Union Carbide, the Florida Supreme Court held that “the definition of design defect first enunciated in West, which utilizes the consumer expectations test, instead of utilizing the risk-utility test and requiring proof of a reasonable alternative design, best vindicates the purposes underlying the doctrine of strict liability.  We thus disapprove of the Third District’s adoption of the risk-utility test for design defects, as enunciated in the Third Restatement.”  This holding has led to interesting observations amongst commentators and the possibility that the risk-utility test may still be applicable in some cases.

Products Liability refers to a specific area of law that governs whether someone in the manufacturing chain is liable to consumers for a faulty product.  Defective brake pads, faulty household appliances, and children’s toys containing toxic substances are all examples of potential Products Liability claims.  Manufacturers owe consumers a duty of care and Products Liability law holds sloppy manufacturers accountable for manufacturing defects, and design defects.

Consumers that purchase brake pads, household appliances, or children’s toys do so with certain expectations that these products function effectively and safely.  Consumers do not expect their brake pads to fail, household appliances to combust, or children’s toys to contain toxic substances.  The consumer expectations test “allows a jury to infer the existence of a defect if a product fails to meet reasonable expectations of consumers. In a case where there is no evidence, direct or circumstantial, available to prove exactly what sort of manufacturing flaw existed, a plaintiff may establish his right to recover by proving that the product did not perform in keeping with the reasonable expectations of the user.” Legal Information Institute.

Conversely, the risk-utility test asks whether the risk of using the product is outweighed by the utility of its design. This is essentially an economic analysis and juries typically answer whether a reasonable alternative design existed.  The basic criteria in this standard favor the manufacturer.  If juries find that the utility outweighed the risk, and a lack of reasonable alternative designs, the manufacturer will likely succeed.

After Aubin, the belief was that adjudicating strict liability design defect cases required the consumer expectations test.  In fact, in Aubin the Florida Supreme Court articulated its rationale stating “the burden of compensating victims of unreasonably dangerous products is placed on the manufacturers, who are most able to protect against the risk of harm, and not on the consumer injured by the product. Increasing the burden for injured consumers to prove their strict liability claims for unreasonably dangerous products that were placed into the stream of commerce is contrary to the policy reasons behind the adoption of strict liability in West.”

However, since then, some courts have indicated that the consumer expectations test is not appropriate when dealing with complex technical products.  In those instances, some believe that the facts and circumstances of a case may demand the use of the risk-utility test.  One of the reasons for this belief is that the jury instructions remain unchanged.

Either way, in many Products Liability design defect cases the consumer expectations test will be used.  This is advantageous for consumers and good news for those litigating their claims.  Manufacturers are in the best position to protect consumers, and the consumer expectations test reflects this reality.

If you or a loved one have been injured as the result of an improperly designed product, call Bryan W. Crews today, your Orlando personal injury attorney.  Bryan W. Crews has decades of experience and will thoughtfully evaluate your claim.  Products Liability is a complex area of law.  Bryan W. Crews, your Orlando personal injury attorney, will advocate on your behalf and fight to obtain full compensation.

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