Barker v. Lull Engineering Co.

20 Cal. 3d 413, 143 Cal. Rptr. 225, 573 P.2d 443 (1978)



A trial judge may properly instruct the jury that a product is defective in design (1) 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, or (2) if the plaintiff proves that the product's design proximately caused his injury and the defendant fails to prove that on balance the benefits of the challenged design outweigh the risk of danger inherent in such design.


Plaintiff construction worker was injured at a site while operating a high-lift loader made by defendant manufacturer and leased to plaintiff's employer. Claiming that his injuries were proximately caused, inter alia, by the alleged defective design of the loader, the construction worker instituted the present tort action seeking to recover damages for his injuries. The jury returned a verdict in favor of defendants, and plaintiff appealed from the judgment entered upon that verdict, contending primarily that, in view of theis court's decision in Cronin v. J. B. E. Olson Corp. (1972) 8 Cal.3d 121 [104 Cal.Rptr. 433, 501 P.2d 1153], the trial court erred in instructing the jury "that strict liability for a defect in design of a product is based on a finding that the product was unreasonably dangerous for its intended use.”


Is it proper to suggest to the jury that, in order to hold one liable for defective design, there must first be a finding that the product was unreasonably dangerous for its use?




In general,  a manufacturing or production defect is readily identifiable because a defective product is one that differs from the manufacturer's intended result or from other ostensibly identical units of the same product line. For example, when a product comes off the assembly line in a substandard condition it has incurred a manufacturing defect. A design defect, by contrast, cannot be identified simply by comparing the injury-producing product with the manufacturer's plans or with other units of the same product line because, by definition, the plans and all such units will reflect the same design. Rather than applying any sort of deviation-from-the-norm test in determining whether a product is defective in design for strict liability purposes, cases have employed two alternative criteria in ascertaining whether there is something "wrong, if not in the manufacturer's manner of production, at least in his product."

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