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Evidence of industry standards in strict liability litigation: looking at a pending case, P.1

We mentioned in our last post that product liability cases based on the legal theory of strict liability do not require a showing of negligence, but only that there was an unreasonably dangerous defect which resulted in injuries, with no significant changes having been made to the product and the product having been used in the ordinary way.

As we noted last time, one of the issues that can arise in strict liability cases is what evidence can be introduced to demonstrate that a product defect is unreasonably dangerous, and this question came up in a recent case involving evidence of industry practice. The case specifically involved the question whether Toyota could present evidence that it was industry practice to have electronic stability control as an option on vehicles rather than as an automatically included feature. 

Before the case was appealed to the California Supreme Court, a lower court ruled that evidence of industry custom may be admissible in strict product liability actions, but that admissibility depends on the nature of the evidence and the purpose for which it is being introduced. That hasn’t always been the case, though.

Strict product liability cases can involve different “tests” to determine whether a product design is unreasonably dangerous. These tests weigh things like consumer expectations and can include a risk-benefit analysis with respect to product design. In our next post, we’ll say more about these tests, how evidence of industry standard may or may not fit into the picture, and why it is critical to always work with an experienced attorney when pursuing product liability litigation

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