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Governmental Standards Not Necessarily A Safe Haven For Products Liability Claim (PA)

July 8, 2016

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Is evidence of a product’s adherence to governmental standards admissible in strict liability cases in Pennsylvania?  Short answer, maybe.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court was faced with this issue in <a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Webb-v.-Volvo-Cars-of-North-America.pdf">Webb v. Volvo Cars of North America</a>.  In Webb, a tangled logic examined whether such evidence, which might be admissible with respect to a negligence claim, should be permitted in an action based in solely in strict liability.  Seemingly at odds were  the Supreme Court decision of Tichner  v. Omega Flex, Inc. that Volvo argued would permit such evidence and plaintiff's reliance upon Lewis v.  Coffing Heist Division and Gaudio v. Ford Motor Co. that would prohibit it.
In Webb, the trial court allowed evidence that the defendant’s product design adhered to governmental standards.  The jury returned a defense verdict, and the plaintiff appealed.  The Pennsylvania Superior Court concluded that the trial court erred by not instructing the jury to disregard the governmental standards evidence and granted the plaintiff a new trial.
So does this ruling mean that the introduction of the evidence was improper?  It would seem that the Court addressed that issue, right?  Well not exactly.  The issue was whether or not the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overruled Lewis and Gaudio, the cases that prohibited <strong><em><strong>the admission</strong></em></strong> of governmental standards evidence, with its decision in Tincher v. Omega Flex.  The Webb Court left the “admission” question on the table.  That said, until the issue reaches the Pennsylvania Supreme Court it seems that defendants should continue to inform juries of how their products were produced in accord with those standards created by the state and federal government.
Thanks to Marcus Washington for his contribution.
For more information, contact Denise Fontana Ricci at <a href="mailto:dricci@wcmlaw.com">dricci@wcmlaw.com</a>.

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