Strict Product Liability Case Examples In California
In Barrett v. Superior Court (1990) 222 Cal. App. 3d 1176 272 Cal. Rptr. 304, a manufacturer argued that it should not be liable to an end user's heirs for wrongful death because the governing statute limited liability to "wrongful acts" and the conduct underlying strict products liability is not "wrongful." (Id. at p. 1188.)
In rejecting this contention, the court observed that "the conduct which forms the basis for liability . . . under the theory of strict products liability is tortious in nature." (Id. at p. 1187.)
"Torts are described as 'wrongs' for which society provides a remedy.
The term 'wrong' implies some 'fault' on the part of the wrongdoer.
The fact that placing into the stream of commerce a defective product which causes injury or death makes the manufacturer and distributor of the product liable in tort is therefore some indication that society ascribes some fault to this conduct." (Id. at p. 1188.)
Quoting Montez v. Ford Motor Co. (1980) 101 Cal. App. 3d 315, 318-319 161 Cal. Rptr. 578, the court continued, " 'Strict products liability is a subtle tort doctrine containing nuances which effectively distinguish it from genuine strict liability also referred to as 'absolute liability'.
Strict liability in the latter sense is equivalent to a compensation system which would render product manufacturers automatically liable for all accidents caused by their product. . . .' " (Barrett, supra, 222 Cal. App. 3d at p. 1188.) the court quoted another commentator as follows:
" 'The doctrine of strict tort liability is referred to as liability without fault. This is true if the concept of "fault" is equated with negligence, for in strict liability a plaintiff is relieved of the burden of showing that the seller or manufacturer failed to act in a reasonably prudent manner in the design, production or sale of his product.
Strict liability is not absolute liability, however, for the plaintiff must still prove the product was defective at the time it left the control of the defendant.
If "fault" can be equated with the responsibility for placing a defective product into the stream of commerce, then strict tort liability requires a showing of such fault, just as an action for breach of an implied warranty of merchantability requires a showing that the seller was at "fault" in selling a product that was not of merchantable quality.' (1 Madden, Products Liability (2d ed. 1988) 2.12, pp. 41-42.
See also Schwartz, Comparative Negligence (2d ed. 1986) 12.2 at p. 198: 'Furthermore, Professor Powers has perceptively observed that in spite of some "judicial opinion" language to the contrary, fault has remained the essence of the test in product liability cases based on failure to design a product properly and failure to warn,' quoting Powers, the Persistence of Fault in Products Liability (1983) 61 Tex. L.Rev. 777.)" (Id. at p. 1189; see Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. v. Superior Court (1993) 15 Cal. App. 4th 547, 557-559 19 Cal. Rptr. 2d 24 noting in essence that strict products liability may be viewed as a species of liability for negligence.)