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The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland has held that in a strict liability case evidence of subsequent remedial measures is not admissible to prove culpable conduct.
Appellant Michael Troja brought a strict liability personal injury action against appellee Black and Decker Manufacturing Company, Inc. after appellant accidentally amputated his thumb while using radial arm saw manufactured by appellee. The appellant contended that the absence of a safety feature that would have prevented the saw from running when the guard fence was not in place rendered the saw unreasonably dangerous, and that the warnings provided by appellee were inadequate. The Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County (Maryland) granted the manufacturer's motion for a directed verdict on the defective design claim and entered judgment for the manufacturer on the failure to warn claim. The appellant sought review, arguing, among others, that the trial court abused its discretion in not allowing cross-examination of the appellee's expert as to warnings Black and Decker provided on models post-dating the saw in the matter at bar
Under the circumstances, could the appellant prevail on his defective design claim and his failure to warn claim against appellee manufacturer?
The court found that the failure of the manufacturer to incorporate a safety system was not an inherently unreasonable risk because the consumer offered no evidence that his suggested safety feature was available at the time the saw was manufactured or that the cost of such a feature would not have been prohibitive to its manufacture. Moreover, the court held that in a strict liability case, evidence of subsequent remedial measures was not admissible to prove culpable conduct. The court reasoned that in this instance the modification that the manufacturer had made and that the consumer sought to introduce had not been made until almost seven years after the allegedly defective saw was manufactured. The court reasoned that the disparity in time was too great and would have the potential to divert the jury from the question of whether the warnings were defective at the time that the saw was manufactured.