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The consumer expectations test provides that a product may be found defective in design if the plaintiff demonstrates that the product failed to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect when used in an intended or reasonably foreseeable manner. This test derives from the warranty heritage upon which the product liability doctrine partially rests and recognizes that implicit in a product's presence on the market is a representation that it will safely do the job for which it was built.
A married couple brought a products liability action against the defendant manufacturer for the husband's damages from contracting mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos-containing products and for the wife's damages for loss of consortium. The husband died before the trial was completed, but defendant was ultimately found liable for 12 percent of plaintiffs' damages. At trial, plaintiffs proved defendant's product was defective by use of the consumer expectations test, and the court disallowed defendant's offered "state of the art" evidence. Judgment was entered for certain amounts in favor of the wife as administrator of her husband's estate and in favor of the wife individually. The defendant appealed, contending that it was error to apply the consumer expectation test to determine product defect and to preclude the use of defendant’s state-of-the-art evidence in opposition to the consumer expectation test.
Under the circumstances, was it error to apply the consumer expectation test to determine product defect?
The court modified the damages but otherwise affirmed the judgment for the plaintiff, finding the consumer expectation test was properly applied to determine the product defect because there were neither complicated design considerations, nor obscure components, nor esoteric circumstances surrounding the use of the asbestos and because the product failure was beyond the legitimate, commonly accepted minimum safety assumptions of an ordinary consumer. The court concluded that state-of-the-art evidence was immaterial because evidence as to what the scientific community knew about the dangers of asbestos and when they knew it was not relevant to show what plaintiff's husband, as an ordinary consumer, reasonably expected in terms of safety.