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.
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.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a ruling on January 21, 2014 in the case of Lance v. Wyeth, 2014 Pa. LEXIS 205 (Pa. 2014), where a split Court found that drug companies are not immune to product liability claims in Pennsylvania for defective drugs. In a 56 page opinion that was upheld in a 4-2 ruling, the Court decided Lance some three years after oral argument and added to the uncertain future landscape of products liability law in Pennsylvania.
The "state of flux" continued in the landscape of Pennsylvania products liability law, with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania choosing to apply the Restatement Third of Torts to a Plaintiff's strict liability claims in a matter involving an allegedly defective ladder. This is significant, as almost one year ago the Middle District chose to apply the Restatement Second in a products liability action.  The volatile nature of the applicable substantive law in Pennsylvania product liability actions figures to continue until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court renders an Opinion on the applicable substantive law in Tincher v. Omega Flex, 64 A.2d 626.