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Barker v. Lull Engineering Co

    Brief Fact Summary. Barker (Plaintiff) was injured at a construction site while operating a high-lift loader manufactured by Lull Engineering Co. (Defendant). Plaintiff claimed that his injuries were proximately caused by the defective design of the loader.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A product is defective in design if either: (1) the product has failed to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect when used in an intended or reasonably foreseeably manner; or (2) the benefits of the challenged design do not outweigh the risk of danger, inherent in such design.

    Facts. Plaintiff was injured at a construction site while operating a high-lift loader manufactured by Lull Engineering Co. (Defendant), and leased to Plaintiff’s employer by George M. Philpott Co. (Defendant). Plaintiff sued Defendant in tort to recover damages for his injuries. Plaintiff claimed that his injuries were proximately caused by the defective design of the loader. The jury found for Defendant. Plaintiff appealed, claiming that the trial court erred in instructing the jury “that strict liability for a defect in design of a product is based on a finding that the product was unreasonably dangerous for its intended use.”

    Issue. Should a jury be instructed that in order to hold one strictly liable for defective design, it must be found that the product was unreasonably dangerous for its intended use?

    Held. No. Judgment reversed.
    * A product is defective in design if the product has failed to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect when used in an intended or reasonably foreseeably manner. Implicit in a product’s presence on the market is a representation that it will safely do the jobs for which it was built. When a product fails to satisfy such ordinary consumer expectations as to safety in its intended or reasonably foreseeable operations, a manufacturer is strictly liable for resulting injuries.
    * A product is also defective in design if the benefits of the challenged design do not outweigh the risk of danger inherent in such design. In evaluating a design, a jury may consider, among other relevant factors, the gravity of the danger posed by the challenged design, the likelihood that such danger would occur, the mechanical feasibility of a safer alternative design, the financial cost of an improved design, and the adverse consequences to the product and to the consumer that would result from an alternative design.
    * In this case, the jury instruction challenged by Plaintiff is erroneous because it required Plaintiff to prove that the high-lift loader was ultra-hazardous or more dangerous than the average consumer would contemplate, and that the defectiveness must be evaluated in light of the product’s intended use instead of the proper standard, reasonably foreseeable use.

    Discussion. This case describes the two ways in which a product can be defective. It also points out the distinction between intended use and reasonably foreseeable use. If a manufacturer produces a product for an intended use, but a consumer is injured by a defect while using the product for a foreseeable use, the manufacturer will not be absolved of liability.


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