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June 25th, 2018

Defective Product Injury Law in Pennsylvania – How is a Product Defective?

Under Pennsylvania law, a person injured by a defective product may be able to get financially compensated. The following parties may be liable for a defective product:

  • product manufacturer,
  • product distributor, or
  • product retailer.

Under the law, companies which make and sell products are required to provide products that are reasonably safe for their intended uses, as well as any reasonably foreseeable uses. This duty extends not only to direct purchasers/consumers, but others who may come into contact with a product. For example, a baseball player who receives a defective helmet from the team may have a valid product injury lawsuit against the product maker or seller, even though the player didn’t purchase the helmet.

Defective Product Law in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, consumers injured due to defective products may seek compensation for their injuries. A recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court case makes it easier for injured consumers to succeed in defective product injury lawsuits. In 2014, the court redefined product liability law in Pennsylvania. See Tincher v. Omega Flex. Previously, injured consumers had to prove that a product either had or didn’t have a feature or element necessary to make it safe for its intended use or other reasonably foreseeable use.

The Tincher court held that injured consumers can prove that a product was defective by using two product liability theories: consumer expectations and risk-utility. The consumer expectations and risk-utility theories aren’t new and were actually pretty well-established across the U.S. prior to the Tincher ruling.

A product that is defective under the consumer expectations test is either defectively manufactured or defectively designed. A product is defectively manufactured if something happened during manufacture that rendered the specific product or batch of products defective. A product may be defectively designed if the product wasn’t tested, developed or configured properly. Under the risk-utility test, products are usually defective because they were defectively designed.

Consumer Expectations

Under the consumer expectations test, a product is defective if with normal use, it is dangerous beyond the average, reasonable consumer’s expectations, contemplations or thoughts.  In other words, a product is defective if the danger is unknowable or hidden from the average, reasonable consumer.  Relevant factors include:

  • the nature of the product,
  • the identity of the user,
  • the product’s intended use and intended user, and
  • any express or implied representations by the product maker or seller.

Example: Alcohol is dangerous because it can result in health problems due to overuse or long term use. The risk of using alcohol is understood by the average consumer. However, alcohol contaminated with small pieces of metal is defective because the danger is hidden. The average consumer would not be expected to anticipate that their alcohol would contain metal pieces.

Risk-Utility (i.e., Cost-Benefit)

Under this test, a product is defective if a reasonable person (everyday, average person) would find that the likelihood and degree of harm caused by the product outweigh the burden or costs of taking precautions. In other words, what’s the risk of harm and does it outweigh the cost to fix or change the product?

Relevant factors include:

(1) The usefulness and desirability of the product—its utility to the user and to the public as a whole.
(2) The safety aspects of the product—the likelihood that it will cause injury, and the probable seriousness of the injury.
(3) The availability of a substitute product which would meet the same need and not be as unsafe.
(4) The manufacturer’s ability to eliminate the unsafe character of the product without impairing its usefulness or making it too expensive to maintain its utility.
(5) The user’s ability to avoid danger by the exercise of care in the use of the product.
(6) 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.
(7) The feasibility, on the part of the manufacturer, of spreading the loss by setting the price of the product or carrying liability insurance.

Example: A space heater contains an element that overheats and can catch fire. The element could be substituted with fireproof material. Instead, the company that makes the heater decides to use the lower cost material, despite testing which shows that the overheating occurs after continuous use over 6 hours. The product warning insert does not contain any indication of this risk, and there is no automatic mechanism to shut the heater down prior to the 6 hour mark.

Here, the risk of injury is quite serious, fire. The probability of overheating is great because it occurs after 6 hours. Without suitable warnings in the product insert, the heater is defective because the company should have used the better material to avoid the risk. In other words, the likelihood and risk of injury outweighed the cost of using the better material.

For more info, visit the Pennsylvania & New Jersey Product Injury Law Library.

Product Injury Lawyers in Pennsylvania

Our product injury law group handles defective product cases throughout Pennsylvania. We’ve recovered over $200 million for our clients. Contact us to discuss a potential case. (866) 641-0806

**This website does not provide legal advice. Every case is unique and it is crucial to get a qualified, expert legal opinion prior to making any decisions about your case. See the full disclaimer at the bottom of this page.