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PA Court Clarifies When Use Of Plaintiff's Behavior Can Be Used In Products Liability Cases

September 28, 2010

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In a recent products liability case, the PA Superior Court clarified when a defendant in a products liability case can introduce evidence of the plaintiff’s behavior. In the case of <i>Reott v. Asia Trend et. al.</i>, the court explained that there are only three limited circumstances when a defendant is permitted to introduce evidence of a plaintiff’s behavior in a strict liability products liability case. These are voluntary assumption of risk, misuse of the product and highly reckless behavior.

This case involves a plaintiff, Duane Reott, who was injured while attempting to use a tree stand manufactured by the defendants. The plaintiff failed to use the device as prescribed by the instruction manual. However, the device also did not work properly. The issue at trial focused mainly on whether the wrongful use of the tree stand by the plaintiff counted as highly reckless behavior. The court was confronted with the issue of whether the defendants had met their burdens of proof. The court confirmed that highly reckless conduct is an affirmative defense that must be proven by the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence.

In order to prove reckless conduct, the defendant must show that the plaintiff (1) knew of facts which created a significant risk of physical harm or that plaintiff “deliberately proceed to act, or failed to act, in conscious disregard of that risk,” and (2) that the plaintiff’s conduct was the sole or superseding cause of the injury. In this appeal the court ruled that the defense had not proven that Reott’s injury was the sole or superseding cause of his injury, thus he was entitled to a directed verdict on the issue.

Thanks to Remy Lapidus for her contribution to this post.

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