Dunlap v. Fed. Signal Corp., 194 A.3d 1067 (Pa. Super. Ct. Aug. 20, 2018)

Pennsylvania Superior Court holds that compliance with industry standards is not prima facie evidence that a product’s design is effective and non-defective.

The plaintiffs in this mass tort product liability action were firefighters who allegedly suffered permanent hearing loss due to exposure to a siren manufactured by the defendant. Proceeding under a risk-utility theory of product liability, the plaintiffs offered expert testimony concerning an alternative design that would reduce the noise level in the cab of a fire truck. However, their expert did not offer any opinion as to whether the alternative design would offer the same level of protection to motorists and pedestrians. In their unsuccessful attempt to defeat summary judgment, the plaintiffs argued that such testimony was unnecessary because the alternative design complied with industry standards. On appeal, a divided panel of the Superior Court upheld the defendant’s dismissal. While the dissenting judge argued the majority had erred in adopting a bright line rule barring evidence of the product’s compliance with industry standards, the majority countered it had not been presented with that particular issue on appeal. Rather, the majority’s decision was limited to a finding that compliance with industry standards was not sufficient to prove the effectiveness of a product’s alternative design. Thus, while language from this decision may provide some insight as to the current leanings of the Superior Court on this issue, it does not provide a definitive answer as to the admissibility of industry standard evidence in the post-Tincher landscape. 


Case Law Alerts, 1st Quarter, January 2019

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