Pennsylvania Superior Court Attempts To Interpret Tincher
The Pennsylvania Superior Court, in interpreting Tincher, recently confirmed that a plaintiff may simultaneously proceed in alleging a strict products liability defective design claim and a negligent design cause of action. Thus, the legal landscape as to what exactly Tincher means in any practical sense continues to be muddied. In the wake of Tincher, which mixed negligence principles into strict liability claims, trial courts have been plagued with questions whether negligent design and strict product liability defective design are one and the same. The Pennsylvania Superior Court, recently confronted with this thorny issue, held that a plaintiff may proceed with both claims, as Tincher did not entirely eliminate the distinction between negligence and strict liability.
Specifically, in Timmonds v. AGCO Corp, plaintiff essentially hotwired a cart and suffered injuries when the cart ran over his leg. At trial, plaintiff’s expert failed to set forth the requisite standard of care that the manufacturer allegedly failed to conform to; as such, the trial court granted a directed verdict, as plaintiff could not show that the defendant “breached any technical, manufacturing, or industry standards.” The product liability allegation reached a verdict for the defendant.
At the appellate level, plaintiff argued that the court improperly issued a directed verdict on the negligence claim. Similarly, at the appellate level, the defendant argued that no cause of action for negligent design could exist in the wake of Tincher and the decision of the jury finding the product was not defective. The appellate court indicated that the negligent design and strict liability design claims were not identical, and that plaintiff could simultaneously proceed with both, holding that although Tincher created a composite Consumer Expectations Test and Risk Utility Test, the combination test was still different than a negligent design claim. Nonetheless, the appellate court upheld the dismissal of the negligent design claim, holding that plaintiff waived the claim in any event by failure to appropriately preserve objections and brief the issue.
This case continues to show the difficulty that litigants, attorneys, and the courts face when trying to distill Tincher into practical reality.
Thanks to Matt Care for his contribution to this post. If you have any questions or comments, please contact Colleen Hayes.