Defectively-designed products injure thousands of people every year.
Generally referred to as “products liability,” there are several legal routes to recovery against manufacturers and sellers for injuries to our clients which were caused by products with design defects in Missouri. I have personally handled products liability cases in the circuit courts and appellate courts in Missouri. Although there are others, this article examines two distinct but often misunderstood defective design products liability theories in Missouri. We will explain how a “strict liability” claim differs from the better-known claim of “negligence.”
Negligence and strict liability cases, though viewed similarly in some jurisdictions, are distinguished in design defect cases in Missouri. The difference between negligence and strict liability in tort in defective design cases is that in strict liability we are talking about the condition (dangerousness) of a product which is designed in a particular way, unlike in negligence when we are talking about the conduct of the designer or manufacturers in designing and selling the product as he/she did. In strict liability claims, the sole subject of inquiry for the jury is the defective condition of the product, and the jury does not need to consider the manufacturer or seller’s knowledge, negligence, or fault. Consequently, under strict liability, the defendant may be found liable without regard to his knowledge or conduct. As a result, the negligence concept of “reasonable care” is excised from Missouri’s rule of strict tort liability. In other words, the focus of a strict liability design defect case is an unreasonable danger posed by a product, and whether it caused injury, meaning that an injured plaintiff is not required to show that the manufacturer or designer acted unreasonably or negligently. Accordingly, liability may be imposed in a strict liability action without regard to the defendant’s knowledge or conduct. Basically, behavior (good or bad) does not matter to the jury in strict liability claims, while.
Consistent with this approach, at a trial in a design defect case when the only theory is strict liability, the concept of “unreasonable danger,” the threshold used to determine whether a product is defective, is presented to the jury as an ultimate issue for them to decide, without further definition or guidance from the judge. The jurors give the concept of “unreasonable danger” meaning by applying their collective intelligence and experience to whatever evidence (specific products, facts and circumstances) is presented to them in their case.
Understanding Missouri’s differing evidentiary requirements to prove the separate claims of negligence and strict liability, the attorneys at Cantor Injury Law can strategically decide whether to pursue a design defect claim with a theory of negligence or strict liability, or both. The reader may wonder: Why not just use both theories in every design defect case? The answer is that sometimes the evidence may show that the manufacturer was not necessarily negligent, but a product still ended up dangerously defective. Excellent conduct by a defendant during the design and manufacturing process, such as testing or trying to “design out” defects may tend to show that the defendant met the standard of care in its industry and was therefore not negligent. A jury could find the manufacturer was not really “at fault” and then, after considering that manufacturer’s laudatory conduct, decide that they cannot find for our client. However, our client remains just as injured, and the product just as dangerous. Because evidence regarding a manufacturer’s careful conduct and use of reasonable care in designing and manufacturing a product relates solely to that manufacturer’s alleged negligence, which is not an issue to be submitted to the jury in the strict products liability claim, we may opt to use strict liability, where the only relevant inquiry for the jury is whether the product was unreasonably dangerous, and therefore defective, based solely on the condition of the product. Thus, using strict liability we can achieve a WIN for our client without requiring the jury to find that the manufacturer messed up or is “at fault,” as that concept is used in the negligence context. Conversely, if the manufacturer did no testing or analysis in designing and manufacturing a product (or did these things badly) and that conduct led to the injury, we may want a jury to see that evidence, and ask a jury to find the manufacturer “negligent” on that basis. Of course, many cases may permit us to pursue both theories at the same time.
Every case is different, and even during the handling of a single case the theories may shift and evolve based on the evidence and your goals. At Cantor Injury Law we stand ready to strategically apply these theories to your design defect case and to fight for justice for the injured.