Case Law Alerts
Pennsylvania Superior Court holds in Tincher II that it is reversible error to instruct the jury on the “any element” product defect test and “defendant as guarantor” safety language.
In its landmark 2014 decision, Tincher v. Omega Flex (Tincher I), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court altered the framework for determining when a product is considered defective. Departing from a precedent that had erected a strict barrier between concepts of negligence and strict liability, the court adopted a composite standard requiring “proof, in the alternative, either of the ordinary consumer’s expectations or of the risk-utility of a product.” As part of its holding, the Supreme Court remanded the case for a determination as to whether this reformulation of the law entitled the defendant to a new trial. The trial court determined that a new trial was not necessary because the jury had already been presented with sufficient evidence to reach a verdict under the risk-utility test. The trial court’s decision was reversed on appeal by the Superior Court in Tincher II. The Superior Court explained that, although the jury may have heard evidence about risk and utility during the trial, it was not charged on such a standard. Instead, the jury received instructions—which had been overruled in Tincher I—equating “a defective product with one that ‘leaves the suppliers’ control lacking any element necessary to make it safe for its intended use,’ and a declaration that a manufacturer ‘is really a guarantor of a product’s safety . . . .”‘ The Superior Court held that because these instructions “failed to conform to the applicable law,” they constituted a fundamental error, and a new trial was required.
Case Law Alerts, 2nd Quarter, April 2018
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