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Survey of Design Defect Requirements

In products liability cases, plaintiffs often allege that the product was defectively designed and inherently dangerous. In pharmaceutical and medical device cases, the design defects claim usually plays second fiddle to the warnings claim, but design defect can still be a winning claim for the plaintiff. Therefore, knowledge of the applicable state law for design defect is critical.

The test for whether a product is inherently dangerous has evolved in recent years from the “consumer expectations test” to the “risk-utility test.” Although products liability scholars have advocated for the explicit use of the risk-utility test,1 many states have yet to adopt the new standard.

Under the traditional consumer expectations test, the seller of a product is liable if the product is in a defective condition such that it renders the product unreasonably dangerous to the consumer.2 This standard allows a jury to infer the existence of a defect if the product fails to meet reasonable expectations of consumers.3

The consumer expectations test prevailed as the standard for design defect claims until the 1980s.4 At that time, a view arose among products liability scholars that the consumer expectations test was both indefensible in theory and unworkable in practice.5 The scholars advocated instead for a newly emerged theory that balanced the benefits of using a product as designed with the risks of harm associated with the design, known as the risk-utility test.6

This article surveys the current state of law across the 50 states to demonstrate which states have adopted the risk-utility test and which states remain committed to the consumer expectations test. The survey includes whether the state requires a plaintiff to demonstrate that a feasible alternative product design would have prevented plaintiff’s harm at a reasonable cost.

CONSUMER EXPECTATIONS TEST

ARKANSAS:

  • Consumer expectations test. See Ark. Code § 16-116-102(7) (A).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. Anderson v. Raymond Corp., 340 F.3d 520, 524-25 (8th Cir. 2003).

INDIANA:

  • Consumer expectations test. See Burns Ind. Code Ann. § 34-20-4-1; see also Vaughn v. Daniels Co. (West Virginia), Inc., 777 N.E.2d 1110, 1128 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. Burt v. Makita USA, Inc., 212 F. Supp. 2d 893, 900 (N.D. Ind. 2002).

KANSAS:

  • Consumer expectation test. Delaney v. Deere & Co., 999 P.2d 930, 945-47 (Kan. 2000).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? No. Delaney v. Deere & Co., 999 P.2d 930, 945-47 (Kan. 2000).

MARYLAND:

  • Generally, consumer expectation test. Halliday v. Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc., 792 A.2d 1145, 1152 (Md. 2002). However, when a product malfunctions, Maryland courts utilize the in risk/utility test. See 792 A.2d at 1153.
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes, under the risk-utility analysis. See Halliday v. Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc., 792 A.2d 1145, 1153 (Md. 2002); see also Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. v. Nave, 740 A.2d 102, 120 (Md. App. 1999).

NEBRASKA:

  • Consumer expectations test. Freeman v. Hoffman-La Roche, Inc., 260 Neb. 552, 618 N.W.2d 827 (2000).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? No. Kudlacek v. Fiat, 244 Neb. 822, 509 N.W.2d 603 (1994).

NEW HAMPSHIRE:

  • Consumer expectations test. Davis S. Vautour v. Body Masters Spots Industries, Inc., 147 N.H. 150 (2001).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? No. Kelleher v. Marvin Lumber & Cedar Co., 152 N.H. 813, 831 (2005).

NORTH DAKOTA:

  • Consumer expectations test. N.D. Cent. Code § 28-01.301(4).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Has not been addressed in North Dakota.

OKLAHOMA:

  • Consumer expectations test. Woods v. Fruehauff Corp., 765 P.2d 770, 774-76 (OK 1988) (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402k).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? No. Graves v. Mazda Motor Corp., 2010 WL 5094286 (10th Cir. 2010); Karns v. Emerson Elec. Co., 817 F.2d 1452 (10th Cir. 1987).

OREGON:

  • Consumer expectations test, generally. Risk-utility may be required when the jury is “unequipped,” either by general background or facts supplied, to decide whether a product failed to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would have expected. In this situation, additional evidence about the ordinary consumer’s expectations is necessary. That evidence may consist of a risk-utility balance. McCathern v. Toyota Motor Corp., 23 P.3d 320, 331 n.15 (2001).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Generally no. But maybe when the risk-utility analysis is applied. McCathern v. Toyota Motor Corp., 23 P.3d 320, 331 (2001) (Recognizing that evidence that the magnitude of the product’s risk outweighs its utility is often demonstrated by proving that a safer design alternative was both practicable and feasible.)

RHODE ISLAND:

  • Consumer expectation test. Austin v. Lincoln Equip. Assoc., Inc., 888 F.2d 934 (1st Cir. 1989).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? No. Guilbeault v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 84 F. Supp. 2d 263 (D.R.I. 2000).

TENNESSEE:

  • Consumer expectations test. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-28-102(8).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? No. Potter v. Ford Motor Co., 213 S.W.3d 264 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2006).

UTAH:

  • Consumer expectations test. Brown v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 328 F.3d 1274, 1278-79 (10th Cir. 2003).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. Allen v. Minnstar, Inc., 8 F.3d 1470, 1479 (10th Cir. 1993).

VERMONT:

  • Consumer expectations test. See Zaleske v. Joyce, 133 Vt. 150, 155, 333 A.2d 110, 113-114 (1975) (Adopting 402A); See also Farnham v. Bombardier, Inc., 161 Vt. 619, 620, 640 A.2d 47, 48 (1994) (Product is defective if it is not “safe for normal handling and consumption.”).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Undetermined. It appears no showing is required, but the issue has not been directly addressed. See Manning v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 2005 Vt. Super. LEXIS 126, fn. 6 (July 20, 2005) (“The adoption of a reasonable alternative design standard based on risk-utility analysis has moved this area of law away from § 402A’s strict liability standard toward negligence. The Vermont Supreme Court has considered this view but has not necessarily adopted it.” (citations omitted)).

WISCONSIN:

  • Consumer expectations test. Green v. Smith & Nephew AHP, Inc., 629 N.W.2d 727, 739 – 741 (Wis. 2001).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? No. Green v. Smith & Nephew AHP, Inc., 629 N.W.2d 727, 739 – 741 (Wis. 2001).

WYOMING:

  • Consumer expectations test. “A prima facie case that a product was defective and that the defect existed when it left the manufacturer’s control is made by proof in the absence of abnormal use or reasonable secondary causes the product failed ‘to perform in the manner reasonable to be expected in light of [its] nature and intended function.” Sims v. General Motors Corp., 751 P.2d 357, 364-65 (Wyo. 1988) (emphasis added).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. See Loredo v. Solvay Am., Inc., 212 P.3d 614, 630 (Wyo. 2009).

RISK-UTILITY TEST

ALABAMA:

  • Risk-utility analysis. Flemister v. GMC, 723 So.2d 25, 27-28 (Ala. 1998).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. Flemister v. GMC, 723 So.2d 25, 27-28 (Ala. 1998).

COLORADO:

  • Risk-utility analysis. Camacho v. Honda Motor Co., 741 P.2d 1240, 1246-47 (Colo. 1987).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? No. See Armentrout v. FMC Corporation, 842 P.2d 175, 185 n.11 (Colo. 1992).

GEORGIA:

  • Risk-utility analysis. Jones v. NordicTrack, Inc., 550 S.E.2d 101, 103-04 (Ga. 2001).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. Jones v. NordicTrack, Inc., 550 S.E.2d 101, 103-04 (Ga. 2001).

IDAHO:

  • Risk-utility analysis. See Toner v. Lederle Labs., 732 P.2d 297, 306 (Idaho 1987).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. Puckett v. Oakfabco, Inc., 979 P.2d 1174, 1181 (Idaho 1999).

KENTUCKY:

  • Risk-utility analysis. Ostendorf v. Clark Equip. Co., 122 S.W.3d 530, 535 (Ky. 2003).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. See Toyota Motor Corp. v. Gregory, 136 S.W.3d 35, 42 (Ky. 2004).

LOUISIANA:

  • Risk-utility analysis. See La. Rev. Stat. § 9:2800.54.
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. See LSA-R.S. 9:2800.56.

MASSACHUSETTS:

  • Risk-utility analysis. Evans v. Lorillard Tobacco Co., 465 Mass. 411, 428 (Mass. 2013).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. Evans v. Lorillard Tobacco Co., 465 Mass. 411, 428 (Mass. 2013).

MICHIGAN:

  • Risk-utility analysis. Gregory v. Cincinnati Inc., 538 N.W.2d 325, 333 (Mich. 1995).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. Rodger v. Ford Motor Co., No. 275578, 2008 Mich. App. LEXIS 2071, *6-7 (Mich. App. Oct. 21, 2008).

MINNESOTA:

  • Risk-utility analysis. See Ehlers v. Siemens Medical Solutions, USA, Inc., 251 F.R.D. 378, 383-384 (D.Minn. 2008).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. Wagner v. Hesston Corp., 450 F.3d 756, 760 (8th Cir. 2006).

NEW JERSEY:

  • Risk-utility analysis. See Jurado v. Western Gear Works, 131 N.J. 375, 385 (1993).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. Lewis v. American Cyanamid Co., 155 N.J. 544, 560, 715 A.2d 967, 975 (1998).

NEW MEXICO:

  • Risk-Utility Analysis. See Brooks v. Beech Aircraft Corp., 902 P.2d 54, 62 (N.M. 1995).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? No. Bustos v. Hyundai Motor Co., 2010-NMCA-90, ¶ 54.

NEW YORK:

  • Risk-utility analysis. Scarangella v. Thomas Built Buses, Inc., 717 N.E.2d 679, 681-82 (N.Y. 1999).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. Scarangella v. Thomas Built Buses, Inc., 717 N.E.2d 679, 681-82 (N.Y. 1999).

NORTH CAROLINA:

  • Risk-utility analysis (except in fi rearms cases which use consumer expectations test). N.C. Gen. Stat. § 99B-6(a), (b); N.C. Gen. Stat. § 99B-11.
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? No, as long as the claim is based on the second theory of liability, which provides that “at the time the product left the control of the manufacturer, the design or formulation of the product was so unreasonable that a reasonable person, aware of the relevant facts, would not use or consume a product of this design.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 99B-6(a).

OHIO:

  • Risk-utility analysis for design defect cases. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2307.75.
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? No. Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2307.71(A)(15)(b)(i).

PENNSYLVANIA:

  • Risk-utility analysis. Surace v. Caterpillar, Inc., 111 F.3d 1039, 1042 (3rd Cir. 1997).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Generally, yes. Berrier v. Simplicity Mfg., Inc., 959 A.2d 900, 902 (Pa. 2008). But some cases have limited this requirement to crashworthiness claims. Martinez v. Triad Controls, Inc., 593 F. Supp. 2d 741, 756 n.12 (E.D. Pa. 2009).

SOUTH CAROLINA:

  • Risk-utility analysis. Branham v. Ford Motor Co., 701 S.E.2d 5, 14 (S.C. 2010).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. Branham v. Ford Motor Co., 701 S.E.2d 5, 14-16 (S.C. 2010).

TEXAS:

  • Courts apply a risk-benefi t analysis. Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. v. Martinez, 977 SW 2d 328 (Tex. 1998).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. v. Martinez, 977 SW 2d 328 (Tex. 1998).

COURTS CAN APPLY EITHER TEST

ALASKA:

  • Courts recognize the consumer expectation test and risk-utility analysis. General Motors Corp. v. Farnsworth, 965 P.2d 1209, 1220 (Alaska 1998).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? No. Maines v. Kenworth Alaska, Inc., 155 P.3d 318, 328, n. 35 (Alaska 2007).

ARIZONA:

  • Courts recognize the consumer expectation test and risk-utility analysis. See Golonka v. Gen. Motors Corp., 65 P.3d 956, 962-63 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2003).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? It is unclear under Arizona law.

CALIFORNIA:

  • Courts apply either the consumer expectations test or risk-utility analysis. Soule v. General Motors Corp., 882 P.2d 298, 308-09 (Cal. 1994).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? No. See, e.g. Perez v. VAS S.p.A., 188 Cal. App. 4th 658, 677-78 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 2010).

CONNECTICUT:

  • Courts apply a “modified consumer expectations test” where if the ordinary consumer would not be able to form his or her own expectation of the safety of a given product based on everyday experience, the risks and utilities are then considered. See Potter v. Chicago Pneumatic Tool Co., 694 A.2d 1319, 1330 (Conn. 1997).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? No. Potter v. Chicago Pneumatic Tool Co., 694 A.2d 1319, 1332-33 (Conn. 1997).

FLORIDA:

  • Courts apply either the consumer expectations test or risk-utility analysis. Force v. Ford Motor Co., 879 So.2d 103, 106 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2004).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? No. See Kaufman v. Wyeth, LLC, No. 1:02-CV-22692-Ungaro, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 154112, at *22 (S.D. Fla. Aug. 15, 2011).

HAWAII:

  • Courts recognize the consumer expectations test, the risk-utility analysis and the latent danger test. See Acoba v. General Tire, Inc., 92 Haw. 1, 17, 986 P.2d 288 (Haw. 1999).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Undetermined. It appears no showing is required, but the issue has not been directly addressed.

MISSISSIPPI:

  • Courts require that a product must pass both a risk-utility and consumer expectations test. See Glenn v. Overhead Door Corp., 935 So.2d 1074, 1081 (Miss. Ct. App. 2006).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. Miss. Code Ann. § 11-1-63.

WASHINGTON:

  • Courts can apply either the risk-utility analysis or consumer expectations test. See Soproni v. Polygon Apartment Partners, 137 Wash. 2d 319, 326-27, 971 P.2d 500, 504-05 (1999).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes under risk-utility analysis See Ruiz-Guzman v. Amvac Chemical Corp., 141 Wash. 2d 493, 503, 7 P.3d 795, 800 (2000); No under consumer expectation. See Couch v. Mine Safety Appliance Co., 107 Wash. 2d 232, 237, 241, 728 P.2d 585, 588, 590 (1986).

UNCLEAR WHICH TEST APPLIES

DELAWARE:

  • It is unclear whether Delaware courts employ either test. Delaware has never adopted strict liability, declaring it to be “impermissible judicial legislation.” Cline v. Prowler Industries, Inc., 418 A.2d 968, 974 (Del. 1980). “A product defect may take the form of a design defect, where an entire product line is designed improperly, or a manufacturing defect, where a product line is properly designed but a particular item was manufactured improperly.” Smith v. Daimlerchrysler Corp., No. 94C-12-002-JEB, 2002 Del. Super. LEXIS 434, at *4 (Del. Super. Ct. Nov. 20, 2002).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Undetermined. However, in Delaware, a product is “defective in design where it is not reasonably fi t for its intended purpose and where the design has created a risk of harm which is so probable that an ordinary prudent person, acting as the product’s manufacturer, would pursue a different available design to substantially lessen the probability of harm.” See Allen v. IBM, No. 94-264-LON, 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8016, 139 (D. Del. May 19, 1997).

MISSOURI:

  • “Missouri courts have consistently refused to impose any ‘judicial definition [of unreasonably dangerous] whether derived from consumer expectations, risk-utility or otherwise.’” Sappington v. Skyjack, Inc., 512 F.3d 440 (8th Cir. 2008).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? No. See Moore v. Ford Motor Co., 332 S.W.3d 749, 760 (Mo. 2011).

MONTANA:

  • It is unclear which test Montana follows. A design is improper or “defective if at the time of manufacture an alternatively designed product would have been safer than the original designed product and was both technologically feasible and marketable reality.” Krueger v. General Motors Corp., 783 P.3d 1340, 1345 (Mont. 1989).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. Krueger v. General Motors Corp., 240 Mont. 266, 783 P.3d 1340 (1989); See also Preston v. Montana Eighteenth Judicial Dist. Court, Gallatin County, 936 P.2d 814, 820 (Mont. 1997).

NEVADA:

  • It is not clear whether Nevada applies the risk-utility analysis or the consumer expectations test.
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? No. Fyssakis v. Knight Equip. Corp., 108 Nev. 212, 214 (Nev. 1992).

SOUTH DAKOTA:

  • “It is unclear whether South Dakota has adopted, or would adopt, the so-called ‘risk-utility test,’ in addition to the consumer expectations test of section 402A, for determining the existence of a defective condition.” Robinson v. S.D. Brandtjen & Kluge, Inc., 500 F.3d 691, 698 n.2 (8th Cir. 2007).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Has not been addressed in South Dakota.

VIRGINIA:

  • Product defective if it “fails to satisfy applicable industry standards, applicable government standards or reasonable consumer expectations.” See Redman v. John D. Brush & Co., 111 F.3d 1174, 1177 (4th Cir. 1997).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. See Tunnell v. Ford Motor Co., 385 F. Supp. 2d 582, 583 (W.D. Va. 2005) (“To satisfy his burden a plaintiff must do more than merely demonstrate that a proposed alternative design would make the produce ‘safer’ than it currently is.”)

NEITHER TEST APPLIES

IOWA:

  • Iowa adopted Sections 1 and 2 of the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Product Liability. Iowa’s standard for design defect cases focuses on if “the foreseeable risks of harm posed by the product could have been reduced or avoided by the adoption of a reasonable alternative design, and the omission of the alternative design renders the product not reasonably safe.” See Wright v. Brooke Group Ltd., 652 N.W.2d 159, 169-170 (Iowa 2002).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. Wright v. Brooke Group Ltd., 652 N.W.2d 159, 169-170 (Iowa 2002).

MAINE:

  • Courts apply a danger-utility test to design defect claims. The finder of fact must weigh the dangerousness of a product or product feature against its utility. Guiggey v. Bombardier, 615 A.2d 1169, 1172 (Me. 1992); Speed v. Giddings & Lewis, LLC, No. 05-149-B-K, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87985, at *21, (D. Me. Nov. 29, 2007).
  • Requirement of feasible alternative design? Yes. Stanley v. Schiavi Mobile Homes, Inc., 462 A.2d 1144, 1148 (Me. 1983).

[1] The Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability (1998) has abolished the consumer expectations test and exclusively adopted the risk-utility test.

[2] www.law.cornell.edu/wex/consumer_expectations_test

[3] Id.

[4] Douglas A. Kysar, The Expectations of Consumers, 103 Colum. L. Rev. 1700 (2003).

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

Finis

Citations

  1. The Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability (1998) has abolished the consumer expectations test and exclusively adopted the risk-utility test. Jump back to footnote 1 in the text
  2. www.law.cornell.edu/wex/consumer_expectations_test Jump back to footnote 2 in the text
  3. Id. Jump back to footnote 3 in the text
  4. Douglas A. Kysar, The Expectations of Consumers, 103 Colum. L. Rev. 1700 (2003). Jump back to footnote 4 in the text
  5. Id. Jump back to footnote 5 in the text
  6. Id. Jump back to footnote 6 in the text