The key conceptual distinction between strict products liability and negligence is that in strict liability the plaintiff need not prove faulty conduct on the part of the defendant in order to recover. The focus is on the condition of the product. In applying comparative negligence to strict products liability, the court stated a direct comparison of the defective product with the plaintiff's negligence is both conceptually and pragmatically inappropriate. The only conceptual basis for comparison is the causative contribution of each to the particular loss or injury. In apportioning damages courts are really asking how much of the injury was caused by the defect in the product versus how much was caused by the plaintiff's own actions.
In a wrongful death suit against a manufacturer based on strict liability, defendant requested that defendant's fault, if any, be compared to the total fault of the all parties and any judgment against defendant reflect only defendant's percentage of the overall liability. It appears that the victim died from injuries sustained while operating a defective hydraulic aerial work platform. The trial court struck the defenses, but certified three questions for appeal. The appellate court declined defendant's application for leave to appeal.
Is the defense of comparative negligence applicable to strict products liability actions, such that the defendant would be relieved of any liability?
Yes, but the defense would only mitigate liability.
The court held (1) comparative negligence defense is applicable in strict products liability actions since the manufacturer's liability would remain strict, but the responsibility for damages would be lessened by the extent the consumer's conduct contributed to the injuries; (2) comparative fault would not eliminate joint and several liability since liability would still be apportioned to the degree each defendant's conduct proximately caused the injuries; and (3) joint and several liability would not deny defendants the equal protection of the law.