The Consumer Product Safety Commission maintains publicly available injury statistics pertaining to product categories, including chemicals, fuels, furniture, tools, kitchen and dining products, recreational products, and toys. To view CPSC data on these categories visit: https://www.cpsc.gov/Research–Statistics.
Automotive data is collected and made public by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). To view NHTSA data visit: https://www.nhtsa.gov/research-data
Minnesota Civil Jury Instruction 75.20 sets forth the duty of a manufacturer in a product defect case. The instruction also identifies some of the factors a jury should consider when evaluating a manufacturer’s design choices.
As of May 2, 2017, the Minnesota jury instruction on product defect design stated essentially as follows:
Manufacturer’s duty as to product design
A manufacturer has a duty to use reasonable care to design a product that is not unreasonably dangerous to (users) (those exposed to) the product when the product:
1 Is used as intended, or
2 Is used in a way that the manufacturer could reasonably have anticipated.
Evaluating manufacturer’s design choices
A manufacturer must keep up with scientific knowledge and advances in the field.
A manufacturer’s duty to design products must be judged according to the knowledge and advances that existed at the time the product was designed.
In deciding whether a manufacturer’s design choices resulted in a product that was in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to those who (use) (are exposed to) the product, consider all the facts and circumstances, including:
1 The danger presented by the product
2 The likelihood that harm will result from use of the product
3 The seriousness of the harm
4 The cost and ease of taking effective precautions to avoid that harm
5 Whether the manufacturer considered the scientific knowledge and advances in the field
6 Other factors.
A product manufacturer may not avoid its duty to design a safe product by letting others make decisions affecting the safety of the product.
Relevant Case Law
Safe Product Design Standards. To put it simply, a product manufacturer “has a duty to protect users of its products from foreseeable dangers.” Whiteford v. Yamaha Motor Corp., 582 N.W.2d 916, 918 (Minn. 1998). In other words, a manufacturer is obligated to design products in a manner that avoids any unreasonable risk of harm to anyone who uses the product as intended, or in a way that is reasonably foreseeable. “Under Minnesota law, in order to establish a product claim based upon a defective design, a plaintiff must show that: (1) the defendant’s product was in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous for its intended use; (2) the defect existed when the product left the defendant’s control; and 3) the defect was the proximate cause of the injury sustained.” Mozes v. Medtronic, Inc., 14 F.Supp.2d 1124,, 1127 (1998) citing Bilotta v. Kelley Co., 346 N.W.2d 616, 623 n. 3 (Minn.1984).
Design Defect Cases Requiring Expert Testimony. In design defect cases involving technical, scientific issues which cannot be fully understood by the average juror without some expert assistance, expert testimony as to the defective nature of the defendant manufacturer’s design is an indispensable element of the plaintiff’s case. Wernimont v. International Harvester Corp., 309 N.W.2d 137 (Iowa Ct. App. 1981); Gynan v. Jeep Corp., 13 Mass. App. Ct. 504, 434 N.E.2d 688 (1982). Further, in such a case, expert testimony would be required to establish that the defect caused the accident. Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. v. Armstrong, 145 S.W.3d 131 (Tex. 2004).
Expert testimony is not necessary if the primary facts are accurately presented to the jury and the jurors are as capable of understanding and drawing correct conclusions from the facts as an expert witness. Worsham v. A.H. Robins Co., 734 F.2d 676, 15 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 1670 (11th Cir. 1984). Thus, expert testimony is not required in a products liability case to prove a defect in the product involved where there is other proof in the case establishing that the product was not fit for its intended purpose and was unreasonably dangerous. Interstate Engineering, Inc. v. Burnette, 474 So. 2d 624 (Ala. 1985). Furthermore, it may not be necessary for a plaintiff to produce expert testimony to establish the existence of a defect where a product allegedly fails to meet the reasonable expectations of a user, (Virgil v. Kash N’ Karry Service Corp., 61 Md. App. 23, 484 A.2d 652, 40 U.C.C. Rep. Serv. 83 (1984)) provided that the product at issue is within the scope of common experience. Rosburg v. Minnesota Mining & Mfg. Co., 181 Cal. App. 3d 726, 226 Cal. Rptr. 299 (1st Dist. 1986).
Failure to Warn Claims. Under Minnesota law, to establish a failure-to-warn claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate that “(1) the defendants had reason to know of the dangers of using the product; (2) the warnings fell short of those reasonably required, breaching the duty of care; and (3) the lack of an adequate warning caused the plaintiff’s injuries.” Tuttle v. Lorillard Tobacco Co., 377 F.3d 917, 924 (8th Cir.2004) (citing Erickson v. Am. Honda Motor Co., 455 N.W.2d 74, 77–78 (Minn.Ct.App.1990) (quotations omitted).
Manufacturer Ignorance Typically Not a Worthy Defense. A manufacturer’s ignorance of the defect it creates is typically not a legitimate defense. A manufacturer is expected to keep up with the scientific knowledge and advances in the relevant field.
Preserve Your Rights
Where you or a loved one has been involved in an accident resulting from a defective product, it is important to act swiftly in order to preserve evidence and to ensure other key aspects of your case are not neglected. If you or one of your loved ones has a potential claim, please call us today for a free consultation with one of our experienced personal injury attorneys.