Potter v. Chicago Pneumatic Tool Co

In Potter v. Chicago Pneumatic Tool Co., 241 Conn. 199, 694 A.2d 1319 (1997), the court stated that "products liability law has thus evolved to hold manufacturers strictly liable for unreasonably dangerous products that cause injury to ultimate users. Nevertheless, strict tort liability does not transform manufacturers into insurers, nor does it impose absolute liability. . . . From the plaintiff's point of view the most beneficial aspect of the rule is that it relieves him of proving specific acts of negligence and protects him from the defenses of notice of breach, disclaimer, and lack of privity in the implied warranty concepts of sales and contracts. . . . Strict tort liability merely relieves the plaintiff from proving that the manufacturer was negligent and allows the plaintiff to establish instead the defective condition of the product as the principal basis of liability." Id., at 210-11. The court recognized that under the then existing test for design defect liability, the "consumer expectation" test, "a manufacturer is strictly liable for any condition not contemplated by the ultimate consumer that will be unreasonably dangerous . . . ." Id., at 212. The court defined the term "unreasonably dangerous" to mean that "the article sold must be dangerous to an extent beyond that which would be contemplated by the ordinary consumer who purchases it, with the ordinary knowledge common to the community as to its characteristics." Id., at 214-15, quoting 2 Restatement (Second), Torts 402A, comment (i) (1965). The court, additionally, incorporated a new test termed the "modified consumer expectation" test. That test evolved from a recognition "that there may be instances involving complex product designs in which an ordinary consumer may not be able to form expectations of safety. . . . In such cases, a consumer's expectations may be viewed in light of various factors that balance the utility of the product's design with the magnitude of its risks. . . . Thus, the modified consumer expectation test provides the jury with the product's risks and utility and then inquires whether a reasonable consumer would consider the product unreasonably dangerous." Potter v. Chicago Pneumatic Tool Co., supra, 241 Conn. at 219-20. The court further provided guidelines as to when a trial court should employ the consumer expectation test or the modified consumer expectation test. "We do not require a plaintiff to present evidence relating to the product's risks and utility in every case. . . . There are certain kinds of accidents--even where fairly complex machinery is involved--that are so bizarre that the average juror, upon hearing the particulars, might reasonably think: Whatever the user may have expected from that contraption, it certainly wasn't that. . . . Accordingly, the ordinary consumer expectation test is appropriate when the everyday experience of the particular product's users permits the inference that the product did not meet minimum safety expectations. . . . "Conversely, the jury should engage in the risk-utility balancing required by our modified consumer expectation test when the particular facts do not reasonably permit the inference that the product did not meet the safety expectations of the ordinary consumer. . . . Furthermore, instructions based on the ordinary consumer expectation test would not be appropriate when, as a matter of law, there is insufficient evidence to support a jury verdict under that test. . . . In such circumstances, the jury should be instructed solely on the modified consumer expectation test we have articulated today. "In this respect, it is the function of the trial court to determine whether an instruction based on the ordinary consumer expectation test or the modified consumer expectation test, or both, is appropriate in light of the evidence presented. In making this determination, the trial court must ascertain whether, under each test, there is sufficient evidence as a matter of law to warrant the respective instruction." Id., at 222-23.