In a products liability action against a manufacturer for an alleged defect in the design of its product, where the jury was properly instructed on the theory of negligent design, the trial judge's refusal to instruct on breach of warranty is not reversible error. Such instructions could have created juror confusion and prejudicial error. Indeed, such an instruction would have been repetitive and unnecessary and could have misled the jury into believing that plaintiff could recover on the warranty count even if it found there was no "defect" in the design of the product.
A man sustained injuries in an accident involving the operation of a hand-operated forklift manufactured by the defendant. The injured party and his wife brought suit against a manufacturer alleging negligence and breach of implied warranty as a result of the defective design of a forklift. The trial court ruled in the manufacturers favor. On appeal, however, the court of appeals reversed the judgment for the manufacturer citing the instructions to the jury as reversible error. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Michigan.
Was the trial court's instruction to the jury proper?
On review, the court adopted a pure negligence, risk-utility test in products liability actions where liability is predicated upon defective design. The court also found that the elements of breach of implied warranty and negligent design were indistinguishable and that the standard for both theories of recovery required a showing that the forklift in question was defectively designed and the injuries were proximately caused by this negligence. The court determined that an instruction as to both theories of recovery would have confused the jury and therefore it was not reversible error for the trial court to instruct the jury as to only one theory. The court accordingly reversed the court of appeals and affirmed the judgment of the trial court.