Strict liability has been invoked for three types of defects -- manufacturing defects, design defects, and "warning defects," i.e., inadequate warnings or failures to warn. The Supreme Court of California has set out two alternative tests for identifying a design defect: first, whether the product performed as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect when used in an intended and reasonably foreseeable manner and, second, whether on balance the benefits of the challenged design outweighed the risk of danger inherent in the design.
A former electrician brought an action against manufacturers of products containing asbestos alleging that he contracted asbestosis and other lung ailments through exposure to asbestos and asbestos products in the course of his work. He claimed that for failing to warn consumers of design defects, the manufacturers should be liable under strict liability in tort. The jury found that the products were not defective but on appeal, a new trial was allowed. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of California.
Should a new trial be take place to address the manufacturer’s strict liability?
The Court affirmed the decision granting plaintiff a new trial on the issue of whether defendants were strictly liable for failing to warn of a risk of harm associated with their product, but defendants were permitted to present evidence as to the risk's knowability. The Court held that knowledge, actual or constructive, was a prerequisite for imposition of strict liability in the case, where harm is allegedly due to the manufacturers' failure to warn of risks associated with their product.