In 1979, the Utah Supreme Court in Ernest W. Hahn, Inc. v. Armco Steel Co., 601 P.2d 152 (1979) adopted the doctrine of strict liability as set out in the Restatement of Torts 2d, Section 402A. This section imposes liability in tort without proof of negligence upon “one who sells any product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer….”
Since that date, Utah product liability law has been further changed and shaped by Utah statute as well as state and federal laws. This article tries to set out the basic tenants that make up Utah’s product liability laws.
Utah has adopted the Utah Product Liability Act, Utah Code Ann. §§78B-6-701 to -707, which set forth some of the requirements for a product liability action. Specifically, Section 706 of that act sets the statute of limitations for any product liability act. In Utah, an injured party must bring a product liability action “within two years from the time the individual who would be the claimant in the action discovered, or in the exercise of due diligence should have discovered, both the harms and its cause.”
Causes of Action Most Utah product liability actions fall into one of three categories: design defect, manufacturing defect and/or failure to warn. Each has common but also different elements.
Design Defect – A design defect case essentially involves a product where the design of the product is the cause of the injury. For example, a table saw designed without a guard or a car designed with too small of a wheel base would fall into this design defect category. In design defect cases, the injured party needs to prove the following: (1) there was a design defect in the product; (2) the design defect made the product unreasonably dangerous; (3) the design defect was present at the time the product was sold; and (4) the design defect was a cause of the injuries.
To show a design defect, the injured party needs to demonstrate that the product failed to perform as safely as an ordinary user would expect. The Utah Federal Courts have added the additional requirement that the injured party must show there was a safer, available alternative design that would have prevented the injury. That is, the injured party must show the product could have been designed differently to prevent the injury. For example, if a party was injured using a table saw, the injured party must show there was an alternative design, possibly a certain guard, which would have prevented the injury.
The injured party must also show that the product was unreasonably dangerous, considering the product’s characteristics, risks, dangers and uses together with any knowledge the person using the product had.
Design defect cases often involve complex engineering issues and experts are almost always required to prove them.
Manufacturing Defect – A manufacturing defect case is very similar to the design defect case in that the injured party must prove the following: (1) there was a manufacturing defect in the product; (2) the manufacturing defect made the product unreasonably dangerous; (3) the manufacturing defect was present at the time the product was sold; and (4) the manufacturing defect was a cause of the injuries.
The biggest difference between a design defect case and a manufacturing defect case is the first element discussed above. To prove a manufacturing defect, the injured party must simply show that the product was different from how the manufacturer intended to make the product. For example, faulty brakes on a brand new car would be a manufacturing defect. A medical product which is not built to the manufacturer’s specifications would also fall under the category of a manufacturing defect case.
These cases are often the easiest to prove since you are simply showing the product caused injury because it was manufactured incorrectly.
Failure to Warn – Failure to warn is listed as a claim under product liability, but as defined in Utah it closely follows negligence principles. In a failure to warn case, the injured party must prove the following: (1) the defendant failed to provide an adequate warning at the time the product was sold; (2) the lack of an adequate warning made the product defective and unreasonably dangerous; and (3) the lack of an adequate warning was a cause of the injuries.
In determining whether the defendant failed to provide an adequate warning, negligence principles are used. A defendant must warn about a danger from a product’s foreseeable use which the defendant knew or reasonably should have known and that a reasonable user would not expect. In addition, the defendant is not required to warn about a danger from the product’s foreseeable use that is generally known and recognized.
The type of cases where you will find these type of claims often involve pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Again, failure to warn cases are often very complex and require use of experts and experienced counsel.
Comparative Fault It is important to remember that Utah is a state where fault is allocated between the various parties involved. The Utah Comparative Fault statute applies this allocation to strict liability. Indeed, the Utah Supreme Court has suggested that comparative fault principles will be applied to strict liability.
Any product liability case can be complex and difficult. It is always a good choice to consult an attorney who has experience in these types of cases. Douglas B. Cannon