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What are the standards for design defects in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania residents generally expect that those items they purchase from reputable retailers will work for their intended purpose and do so in a reasonably safe manner. One reason that people have this expectation is that society has decided that everyone stands to gain when manufacturers and sellers are required to adhere to certain standards and regulations. When they don't, and a product fails and causes injury, the injured party may be entitled to compensation.

Several weeks ago, this blog did a very general overview of the types of defects that Pennsylvania law recognizes. Readers might remember that these include defects in design, manufacturing defects, and defective warnings or marketing. This week, we will take a brief look at the first of these, design defects.

Design defects occur when there is a basic problem with a certain product's concept or the way it is meant to function. These are problems that occur on 'the drawing board,' when a product is thought up or a process is created. In Pennsylvania, courts will apply one of two standards to try to determine if injuries were caused by a defectively designed product.

First is the 'consumer expectations' standard. Under this test, a court will look to whether a reasonable consumer would expect the danger posed by the product. For example, most people understand that electric appliances could shock them if they touch certain areas inside the product or the wires running to them. However, a reasonable consumer may be surprised if simply turning a knob meant to tune the device resulted in electrocution.

Second, courts can use the 'risk-utility' standard. This test asks whether the injuries incurred by the use of the product were sufficiently severe or likely that they outweigh the burden of any precautions that could be taken to avoid them. For instance, a gas tank in a vehicle might catch fire during a serious collision, and because people should be avoiding such collisions, the gas tank may not be defective. But, if simply slamming the car door causes a fire, the burden of having to never shut the door firmly and the likelihood and potential consequences of the danger probably mean the product is defective.

People should understand that there are several types of defective products. Pennsylvanians who have been injured by such a defect may wish to consider talking to an experienced products liability attorney.

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