Limiting Consumers' Recovery in Products Liability Lawsuits

Strict products liability is a legal doctrine that imposes liability for personal injury and property damage caused by defectively designed or manufactured products. The manufacturer or seller of such products is held responsible if the product injures a consumer who buys or uses the product.

Courts Limit Consumers' Recovery

The general rule is that manufacturers and sellers of defective products are liable for injuries to consumers that are caused by such products. The courts, however, have adopted several rules or tests that limit a consumer's recovery for injuries caused by defective products. These tests include the consumer expectations test, the inherent characteristics rule, and the patent danger rule. Each test is discussed below.

Consumer Expectations Test

The consumer expectations test considers whether the ordinary consumer's expectations are frustrated by the product's failure to perform. A product is defective in design if it is more dangerous than an ordinary consumer would expect when used in an intended manner or in a manner that the manufacturer or seller should have reasonably foreseen. Under the consumer expectations test, a consumer must prove: (1) the product was more dangerous to use than an ordinary consumer would expect; (2) the alleged defect was present when the product left the manufacturer's hands; and (3) the alleged defect was the legal cause of the consumer's injuries.

Inherent Characteristics Rule

Some courts refuse to impose strict liability on the manufacturer of inherently dangerous products, such as drugs, tobacco and alcohol. The courts reason that consumers are or should be aware of the risks of such inherently dangerous products. In order to recover damages for injuries caused by inherently dangerous products, the consumer must show that the product could have been designed in a safer manner.

Patent Danger Rule

Under the patent danger rule, liability is not imposed on the manufacturer or seller if the consumer's injury resulted from a patent or obvious danger of the product. The manufacturer has no duty to protect against patent, open or obvious risks that should have been realized by a reasonable user or consumer of the product.

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