State Court Rejects Risk-Utility Test in Product Liability Case Against Auto Manufacturer

When courts consider a product liability lawsuit, they will instruct the jury on one of two available tests to determine whether the plaintiff has established their case against the defendant manufacturer. In Florida, courts use the consumer-expectation test to evaluate a plaintiff’s Florida product liability claim.The consumer-expectation test is fairly straightforward and requires jurors to ask themselves whether the product at issue performed as a consumer would expect it to perform under the circumstances. This test is generally preferred by product liability plaintiffs to the other predominant test, the risk-utility test.

Under a risk-utility analysis, jurors are asked whether the risks of the design chosen by the defendant manufacturer outweighed the utility, or benefit, the design provided. The risk-utility test also requires that the plaintiff establish that there was a reasonably safe alternative design that the defendant manufacturer could have used. Since this test places a burden on the plaintiff to establish that a reasonably safe alternative exists, this is generally a more difficult test for product liability plaintiffs to meet.

Jurisdictions across the country disagree on which test to apply. Indeed, just a few years ago, the Florida Supreme Court weighed in on the topic, affirming the use of the consumer-expectation test. A recent case illustrates how another jurisdiction came to the same result, rejecting the risk-utility test in favor of the consumer-expectation test.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was driving an SUV that was manufactured by the defendant. Her husband was in the front passenger seat. As the plaintiff made a lane change, the trailer she was towing started to fishtail, and she lost control of the vehicle. The SUV spun out of control and rolled over several times. When the vehicle came to a stop, it was resting on its roof. The plaintiff was able to escape out the window, but her husband was crushed. The plaintiff filed a product liability lawsuit against the SUV’s manufacturer.

The consumer-expectation test was applied by the jury, and a verdict of $4.5 million was awarded to the plaintiff. The defendant appealed, asking the state’s supreme court to revisit the case under a risk-utility analysis. The defendant argued that the risk-utility test is preferred when there are complex or scientific issues in play.

The court rejected the defendant’s request to apply the risk-utility test. The court began by explaining that the consumer-expectation test fit well within the state’s strict liability scheme for product liability cases. The court then went on to note that the risk-utility test introduces elements of negligence into the analysis by asking which risks were foreseeable by the manufacturer at the time it chose the design. Since product liability claims are based on strict liability, the court determined that introducing elements of negligence was not appropriate. As a result of the court’s decision, the jury’s verdict was affirmed.

Have You Been Injured by a Dangerous Product?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured by a dangerous or defective product, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a South Florida product liability lawsuit. The skilled personal injury attorneys at the law firm of Friedman, Rodman & Frank have extensive experience litigating a wide range of Florida product liability cases, and they know what it takes to succeed on behalf of their clients. Call 877-448-8585 to schedule a free consultation with an attorney today.

More Blog Posts:

Determining Damages in South Florida Car Accidents, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published September 21, 2017.

Nursing Home Claims Privilege in Face of Plaintiff’s Discovery Request, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published October 5, 2017.

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