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DEFECTIVE DESIGN THEORY IN CALIFORNIA PRODUCT LIABILITY LAW

DEFECTIVE DESIGN THEORY IN CALIFORNIA PRODUCT LIABILITY LAW

In our last post, we discussed a wrongful death and product liability lawsuit brought by the family of a California oil refinery worker who died of mesothelioma. The family brought the lawsuit against the manufacturer of asbestos insulation that the worker was exposed to at an El Segundo refinery.

The family sought to hold the manufacturer liable under a "design defect" theory of product liability law. The defective design of a product can be established in two ways under California law:

  1. The consumer expectation test: Did the product perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would have expected when using the product in an intended and reasonably foreseeable way?
  2. The risk-benefit test: Do the benefits of a product's design outweigh the risks associated with it?

The consumer expectations test has the ordinary consumer of a product as its focal point and not the plaintiff in a particular case. The ordinary knowledge of a product's consumer is the controlling factor and a manufacturer may not use expert testimony regarding a risk-benefit analysis to counter allegations that the product performed contrary to the safety expectations of an ordinary user.

When a product is within the "ordinary experience of common users," a plaintiff usually has to prove the following:

  1. The plaintiff used the product.
  2. The circumstances surrounding the plaintiff's injury
  3. The objective features of the product that are relevant to the product's safety

It is more common for the risk-benefit analysis of a defective product to be at issue during a trial because the consumer expectations test is only appropriate when an injured plaintiff alleges that a product's performance did not meet the minimum safety expectations of an ordinary user of the product.

Source: "Saller v. Crown Cork & Seal Co. Inc.," 187 Cal.App.4th 1220, Aug. 27, 2010

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