Pennsylvania high court to review dangerous products policy

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is reviewing two product liability lawsuits, and its ruling could set significant precedent for claims to come.

Two asbestos-related cases were recently appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. According to The Legal Intelligencer, justices will listen to the matters in order to determine whether or not a jury will be tasked with determining if a product is considered unreasonably dangerous.

Crane Co., the defendant listed in both cases, argues that it was not able to present evidence that would support that its products were reasonably safe. The pending ruling from the high court could drastically change the way product liability lawsuits are handled in the state.

Significant 2014 ruling

In 2014, the high court determined in Tincher v. Omega Flex that Pennsylvania declined to adopt the Third Restatement of Torts. This is significant because the court chose to adopt the consumer expectations and risk-utility tests, each of which can result in the manufacturer's strict liability for a plaintiff's damages. The consumer expectations test states that a manufacturer is liable if there is an unreasonably dangerous condition to the product. The risk-utility test is used to determine whether the risk of a product outweighs its benefits.

The Tincher outcome overruled a 1979 case and set precedent for the unreasonably dangerous determination. The majority opinion stressed the role of the jury in acting as a fact-finder when reviewing the product's safety. However, according to Crane Co., trial courts are not using Tincher guidelines when delivering instructions to juries.

The cases in question

The two cases that will go before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Amato v. Bell & Gossett and Vinciguerra v. Bayer CropScience, each resulted in awards of more than $2 million on behalf of victims of asbestos-related illnesses. In those matters, Crane Co. argues, the company was not able to submit information supporting the safety of its products.

The importance of unreasonably dangerous

When it comes to product liability lawsuits, determining that the item is unreasonably dangerous is key to recovering damages. Generally, a product will be found to be unreasonably dangerous when its design, marketing or other defect leads to an injury while it is used as it is intended. These defects must be ones that the typical product user would not contemplate.

For example, a manufacturer fails to warn a consumer about a possible danger, and the consumer suffers a major injury. The manufacturer could be sued on the grounds that the product is unreasonably dangerous.

Critics state that the Tincher ruling has left many questions for people on both sides of the courtroom. Of note, Tincher excluded to address dangerous drugs and medical devices, which means cases surrounding those topics could come under further scrutiny.

The outcome of this pending Supreme Court case could significantly shape the landscape of product liability lawsuits in Pennsylvania. Anyone who has questions about this issue should consult with an attorney.