Brief Fact Summary. Kirk Daly (the Decedent) was killed when he was thrown from his car, which allegedly had a defective door latch. The Decedent was not using the shoulder harness, did not have the door locked and was intoxicated at the time. The Plaintiffs, Decedent’s family members (Plaintiffs) brought suit.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The principle of comparative negligence can be applied in strict products liability cases to reduce a plaintiff’s recovery.
Issue. Does the principle of comparative negligence apply to actions founded on strict products liability?
Held. Yes. Judgment reversed.
* Strict liability has never been intended to be absolute liability, causing the manufacturer to become the insurer of the safety of the product’s user. The Court previously determined that a plaintiff’s negligence is a complete defense when it comprises assumption of the risk.
* Here, the Plaintiffs argue that recognition of comparative fault principles in strict products liability cases is an impossible merging of concepts because strict liability is not founded on negligence or fault principles. However, the Court refuses to resolve this issue based solely on linguistic labels. The imposition of strict liability was intended to relieve injured consumers from inherent problems of proof and to place the burden on manufacturers rather than those who are powerless to protect themselves. The Court believes that these goals will not be frustrated by the imposition of comparative principles. Plaintiffs’ recovery will be lessened only to the extent that his own negligence contributed to the injury.
* Plaintiffs also argue that comparative principles will lessen a manufacturer’s incentive to produce safe products. This Court does not believe this to be true, as exposure to liability will be lessened only by the extent to which the plaintiff contributed to his injury and the manufacturer cannot assume that the plaintiff will always be blameworthy. A further benefit will be that the imposition of comparative principles will allow for only a partial limit on recovery, where previously the only plaintiff-negligence defense was assumption of the risk, which was a complete bar to recovery. This unfair rule caused a contributorily negligent plaintiff to be in a better position when claiming negligence than strict liability.
* A further objection to the imposition of strict liability is that jurors cannot compare plaintiff’s negligence with defendant’s strict liability. However, the court is convinced jurors are capable of such a task. The court found final support for the adoption of comparative negligence in strict liability cases in the provisions of the proposed Uniform Comparative Fault Act [adopted by the Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State laws (1997)].
Discussion. The majority of jurisdictions today have applied comparative fault principles to strict products liability cases.