Let’s say you or a family member has the misfortune of suffering an injury while using a product. Do you think you have a viable claim for money damages against the product manufacturer? What do you think you have to prove in a court of law?
Prior to 1976 in the State of Florida, you would have had to prove that the product manufacturer was negligent, or otherwise made a mistake in the design or manufacture of the product. In all probability, that would be an onerous burden. This would almost always require evidence from the factory floor where the product was made to establish that the product was made or assembled in a careless manner.
Then the concept of strict product liability was adopted in 1976 by the Florida Supreme Court in the landmark case of West v. Caterpillar Tractor. After West, the product injured person need only show a defect in the product that caused the injury. The injured party has no burden to establish that the manufacturer was negligent in any way. Therefore, a defendant in a product case based on strict liability may be held liable even though he was utterly non-negligent. If there is a defect that causes injury there is a case. What caused the defect is not relevant. It is not necessary for the Plaintiff to allege or prove the defendant knew or should have known its product could cause injury to others. The concept of strict liability applies only to a defendant who is a seller engaged in the business of selling the offending product.
By John B. Cechman, Partner