How much has the recent Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., Opinion changed the landscape of products liability law in Pennsylvania? So far, this opinion has resulted in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania upholding the dismissal of a manufacturer of a product involved in a serious injury even though the product was deemed defective by the plaintiff's experts. This decision was made in the recent Urbieta v. All-American Hose, LLC, et. al., case. 2019 WL 3385192 (Pa. Super. 2019).
To prevail on a strict product liability claim under Pennsylvania law, a plaintiff must prove the product at issue is defective, the defect existed when the product left defendant's hands, and the defect caused the harm. A product may be defective based on a manufacturing or design defect, or based on a failure to warn. Regardless of the theory, a plaintiff must satisfy one of two standards (or both) to show a product is defective: (i) a consumer expectations standard; and/or (ii) a risk-utility standard. In the wake of Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., 104 A.3d 328 (Pa. 2014), Pennsylvania courts continue to define the contours of these standards, and a recent decision from the Western District of Pennsylvania, Igwe v. Skaggs, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 99622 (W.D. Pa. Jun. 28, 2017), adds clarity to the consumer expectations standard in particular.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently affirmed an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County entering a judgment against American Honda Motor Co., Inc. ("Honda") on a jury verdict of $55,325,714 in a personal injury action. American Honda Motor Co., Inc. v. Martinez, 2017 Pa. Super. LEXIS 271 (Pa. Super. Apr. 19, 2017). Plaintiff in Martinez suffered severe injuries in an automobile accident allegedly as a result of (i) a defectively designed seatbelt and (ii) a failure to warn with respect to the subject car's inability to protect passengers in certain types of accidents. In addition to providing a helpful analysis of design-defect claims after Tincher v. Omega Flex, 104 A.3d 328 (Pa. 2014), the Martinez decision provides guidance as to how Pennsylvania courts analyze causation in a failure-to-warn claim.
In Dolby v. Ziegler Tire & Supply Co., 2017 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 791 (Pa. Super. Feb. 28, 2017), a case that proceeded to trial solely on a strict-product-liability, failure-to-warn claim, the Superior Court recently affirmed an Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas decision granting defendants' motion for compulsory nonsuit following plaintiff's case in chief. This unpublished decision provides useful guidance regarding the burden of proof in a failure-to-warn case and whether a plaintiff is entitled to a presumption that had an adequate warning been given, it would have been followed.
The current state of Pennsylvania products liability law remains muddled as we continue to await the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's ruling in Tincher v. Omega Flex. As previously discussed, the Court in Tincher is determining whether the Restatement Second of Torts or Restatement Third of Torts will be the substantive law in Pennsylvania. In the interim, the substantive law in federal courts in Pennsylvania depends upon the judge. Recently, Judge Mannion of the Federal Middle District of Pennsylvania applied the Restatement Third in a products liability action involving the alleged failure of a nylon strap and subsequent workplace injury.