How courts assess unavoidably unsafe products


While watching the evening news, a Pittsburgh resident may see one of the many commercials that pharmaceutical companies air to advertise their prescription drugs. During one of these ads the commercial may list some of the drug's potential side effects, and some of those potential complications may be life-threatening. A viewer may wonder why a company would market a drug to treat a medical condition when that drug could result in death.

Some products, like pharmaceuticals, can fall into a category that is often termed "unavoidably unsafe." These products are, when prepared properly and marketed effectively, still potentially dangerous to individuals. Unavoidably unsafe products do not enable consumers to sue under products liability theories of law unless they fail in some capacity to protect consumers from their potential consequences.

There are four criteria that courts often look at when deciding if there is an exception to the unavoidably unsafe product bar on a personal injury claim. First, the court will analyze whether mistakes were made in the preparation of the product that would render it more threatening than the product would have been had it been prepared correctly. Second, the court will assess if the product was properly marketed to show consumers the possible risks they could face if they use the product.

Third, a court would look to see if the risk of having the product available to consumers outweighs the possible benefits of having it available. In the case of a pharmaceutical drug, a court may assess if the benefits of the drug are greater than the possible consequences of its known dangers. Finally, the court would examine if any alternatives to the product exist that could offer fewer hazards to consumers.

Unavoidably unsafe products are often necessary for the health and well-being of consumers. However, like other products, these items can suffer from defects that may render them even more hazardous to the consumers who purchase and use them.

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