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Court Addresses Applicability of Risk Utility and Consumer Expectation Tests in Florida Product Liability Case

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently issued an opinion in a Florida product liability lawsuit. The case arose after a meat-market manager suffered injuries while using a meat saw. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the saw’s manufacturer, arguing that the meat saw was negligently designed. The court instructed the jury that the plaintiff needed to establish that the meat saw was not designed with “reasonable care” and was not “reasonably safe” for foreseeable use. A jury found in favor of the plaintiff, and the defendant appealed.

In addition to other issues, the defendant appealed the jury’s ruling arguing that the court should not have provided the jury a general negligence instruction. Rather, the defendant argued that the court should have instructed the jury on Florida’s “risk utility” test or “consumer expectations” test.

Under Florida law, the risk utility test addresses and balances six considerations to determine whether a product’s risk outweighs its utility to consumers. If it does, the product is negligently designed. The six factors are: the likelihood of potential injury balanced against its utility, the availability of safer products that meet the same need, the obviousness of the danger and the public’s expectation of that danger, the adequacy of instructions and warning, and the ability to minimize the danger without impairing the product or making it economically unfeasible. On the other hand, the consumer expectations test focuses on if the product was more dangerous than an ordinary consumer would anticipate.

The plaintiff argued that Florida courts apply these standards in strict liability cases, not in negligent design lawsuits. Instead, the plaintiff claimed that negligent design lawsuits are governed by whether a defendant breached its duty of care. In this case, the court refused to expressly find that these tests must be satisfied to meet a negligent design lawsuit requirements. However, the court found that, assuming that the tests were appropriate, the defendant did not preserve an objection to the failure to provide the jury with risk utility or consumer expectation test instructions. Instead, the defendant’s appeal only argued that there is insufficient evidence to satisfy the test’s requirements.

In addressing the elements, the court reasoned that a jury could find that a blade guard that does not slide into place poses the risk of a grave injury, while not enhancing the product’s utility. Further, there are safer products that meet the same need. Next, the plaintiff’s expert provided compelling testimony that an alternative model was economically feasible. Moreover, a jury could conclude that although the defendant warned against leaving the blade guard up while not in use, it could find that some accidents happen because of human nature, and a warning is insufficient to prevent those. In addressing the consumer expectations test, the court found that the plaintiff introduced sufficient evidence to establish that the defendant should have known that the blade presented a foreseeable danger to a reasonable consumer. Ultimately, the appellate court found sufficient evidence to satisfy the tests and uphold a negligent design verdict.

Have You Suffered Injuries Because of a Defective Product?

If you or someone you love has been injured because of a defective product, contact the experienced Florida product liability attorneys at Friedman Rodman Frank & Estrada, P.A. The personal injury attorneys at our office have extensive experience successfully a wide range of personal injury matters, including those arising from car and truck accidents, defective products, medical malpractice, and premises liability. Through our diligent representation, our clients have recovered significant amounts of compensation for their injuries and damages. Contact our office at 877-448-8585, to schedule a free initial consultation with a member of our legal team.

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