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“Strict liability” in California

| Dec 11, 2020 | products liability |

In California products liability claims, manufacturers, designers and salespersons are liable for products that cause harm. But unlike many other states, they may be liable even if they exercised due diligence and were not negligent.

As FindLaw explains, state law categorizes products liability claims as either failure to warn cases, defective design cases or cases of manufacturing defects. Only a few of these will fall under strict liability.

Strict liability

In some states, manufacturers, designers and salespersons are only liable for defective products if they demonstrated negligent behavior or the actual intent to harm. Strict liability doctrine in California instead allows courts to hold these parties responsible for defective products even if they exercised due care or made decisions that other reasonable persons would have made in their place. Strict liability in California may apply even when the parties intentionally took measures to avoid adverse outcomes.

This does not mean that courts will hold manufacturers, designers or salespersons strictly liable in all cases. As the Supreme Court and California appellate courts have ruled, the consumer must prove that the product was defective and caused him or her actual harm before strict liability would apply. There are many other laws that may apply to a products liability claim.

Other liability considerations

In some cases, California courts will use the pure comparative negligence doctrine to assess the negligence of each party involved in the incident. This includes the consumer. The plaintiff may be able to collect damages, even if he or she was primarily at fault for the incident.

For example, a court may determine that a pharmaceutical company was negligent by allowing the contamination of a certain medication in processing. A consumer uses the medication recklessly and against his doctor’s recommendations, and he has a serious reaction. A judge may decide that the company was 85% at fault for the contaminated medication, and the consumer was 15% at fault for taking their prescription recklessly. The consumer may still be able to collect 85% of the total damages a court assesses.

In other cases, California courts may use the “consumer expectations” test to determine whether a certain product would meet reasonable consumer expectations. If they determine that it meets this standard, they are likely to reduce or remove the company’s liability. They may also use the “risk-benefit test” to decide whether a dangerous product has valuable uses that outweigh the risk of injury.

These and other laws may apply instead of, or in combination with strict liability laws.