Pennsylvania Products Liability

Pennsylvania law recognizes multiple causes of action where someone suffers an injury due to a defective product. These types of cases are known as “products liability” cases.

A products liability action may succeed without any wrongdoing on the part of the manufacturer or distributer. To succeed in Pennsylvania, one must simply show “(1) that the product was defective, (2) that the defect existed when it left the hands of the defendant, and (3) that the defect caused the harm.” Putt v. Yates-Am. Mach. Co.722 A.2d 217, 220 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1998). Thus, liability may result from what are known as design defects, manufacturing defects, or warning defects.

  1. Design Defects

A design defect exists “where the product left the supplier’s control lacking any element necessary to make it safe for its intended use or possessing any feature that renders it unsafe for the intended use.” Azzarello v. Black Bros. Co., Inc.391 A.2d 1020, 1027 (Pa. 1978). In such cases, the question is whether the product should have been designed more safely than it was. Putt v. Yates-Am. Mach. Co.722 A.2d 217, 221 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1998).

  In determining if a product’s design is unreasonably dangerous a court will consider “[t]he gravity of the danger posed by the challenged design; the likelihood that such danger would occur; the mechanical feasibility of a safer design; and the adverse consequences to the product and to the consumer that would result from a safer design.” Schindler v. Sofamor, Inc.774 A.2d 765, 772 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2001).

Courts also analyze additional factors to determine a defect. Riley v. Warren Mfg., Inc., 688 A.2d 221, 225 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1997). These include: (1)“[t]he usefulness and desirability of the product”; (2) “[t]he safety aspects of a product;” (3) “[t]he availability of a substitute product which would meet the same need and not be as unsafe;” (4) “[t]he manufacturer’s ability to eliminate the unsafe character of the product without impairing its usefulness or making it too expensive;” (5) “[t]he user’s ability to avoid danger by the exercise of care;” (6) “[t]he user’s anticipated awareness of the dangers inherent in the product;” and (7) “[t]he feasibility on the part of the manufacturer, of spreading the loss of setting the price of the product or carrying liability insurance.” Id.

  1. Manufacturing Defects

Manufacturing defects “are deemed present when a product fails to conform to its intended design.” Phillips v. Cricket Lighters841 A.2d 1000, 1019 (Pa. 2003) (Saylor, J., concurring). “Liability is imposed regardless of whether or not the manufacturer’s quality control efforts satisfy reasonableness standards.” Id..

The plaintiff must demonstrate the product failed to “comport with its intended design and is unsafe for normal handling or use.” Dambacher V. Mallis, 485 A.2d 408, 433 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1984) (Wieand, J., concurring and dissenting).

  1. Warning Defects

A plaintiff may also prove a defect by establishing the product lacked adequate warnings. A product may be considered defective “if it is distributed without sufficient warnings to notify the ultimate user of the dangers inherent in the product.”Mackowick v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 575 A.2d 100, 102 (Pa. 1990). 

“A warning of inherent dangers is sufficient if it adequately notifies the intended user of the unobvious dangers inherent in the product.” Id. Therefore, the plaintiff must prove the product was “distributed without sufficient warnings to notify the ultimate user of the dangers inherent in the product.” Id. 

  “[T]he plaintiff must demonstrate that the user of the product would have avoided the risk had he or she been warned of it by the seller.” Phillips v. A-Best Prods. Co.665 A.2d 1167, 1171 (Pa. 1995).

Depending on the specific facts of your case, other causes of action may apply. If you believe you or someone you know has been injured by a defective product, contact Cliff Bidlingmaier at 609.989.7995 or (215) 970-2755 for your free consultation.