The area of tort law is expansive, and much of it has evolved from common law. While tort law is commonly associated with concepts like assault and battery or the breach of a duty to exercise reasonable care (found in Justia’s Torts Cases Outline), it also encompasses topics such as products liability, misrepresentation, and interference with advantageous relationships. Below is an outline of key cases in this area of tort law with links to the full text of virtually every case, provided free by Justia.
While negligence is the “default” standard for liability in torts, specific areas of law have developed to impose strict liability. Under strict liability, someone may be liable because their action resulted in an injury, regardless of their mental state or the amount of care that they exercised.
Siegler v. Kuhlman 一 The transport of gasoline by truck on a public highway is subject to strict liability because it involves a high degree of risk and a high risk of great harm that cannot be eliminated by the exercise of reasonable care.
Klein v. Pyrodyne Corp. 一 An operator of a public fireworks display is strictly liable for any resulting injuries, since reasonable care cannot eliminate the high risk of great harm from such an uncommon and abnormally dangerous activity.
Crosby v. Cox Aircraft Co. 一 Negligence, rather than strict liability, is the proper standard of liability for ground damage caused by an aircraft because air travel is common and generally safe, and does not impose a high degree of risk, nor is there an inability to eliminate the risk of serious harm with the exercise of reasonable care.
Generally, a seller may be liable for physical harm to a user or consumer when it engages in the business of selling a particular product, and that product is expected to reach the user or consumer without a substantial change in its condition. The three types of products liability claims are manufacturing defects, design defects, and inadequate instructions or warnings.
MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co. 一 A manufacturer may be liable for a defective product when they know that negligence in manufacturing the product is likely to cause harm and that the product will be used by individuals other than the direct purchaser without inspection. It does not matter that there is no privity of contract between the manufacturer and the injured user.
Escola v. Coca Cola Bottling Co. of Fresno 一 Res ipsa loquitur is an appropriate theory of liability when the defendant had exclusive control of the thing causing injury and the nature of the accident is such that it would not ordinarily happen without negligence. (In a concurrence, Justice Traynor argued that manufacturers should be subject to absolute liability for defective products placed into the market to be used without inspection because manufacturers are in a better position than the public to anticipate and guard against many hazards.
H.R. Moch Co. v. Rensselaer Water Co. 一 A duty contractually undertaken to one party cannot extend to other parties infinitely unless this is specifically agreed. Furthermore, a party cannot be liable for mere nonfeasance, when it is not inevitable that their inaction will result in active harm, rather than malfeasance.
Baxter v. Ford Motor Co. 一 A warranty is a promise that creates rights for the promisee, regardless of the existence of a contract. Printed material making certain promises is a warranty that may lead to liability if those promises are misrepresentations on which the promisee reasonably relies.
Henningsen v. Bloomfield Motors, Inc. 一 An implied warranty of merchantability may exist between a manufacturer and an ultimate user even if there is no contract between those parties. A manufacturer cannot limit such warranties without making the consumer aware of the disclaimer or making the disclaimer clear and explicit.
Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc. 一 A failure to inform a manufacturer of a breach of warranty in a timely manner does not prevent consumers from suing the manufacturer on a strict liability theory when they are hurt by a product with a design or manufacturing defect.
A manufacturing defect arises when a product departs from its intended design. Liability will attach if a product’s manufacturing defect caused an injury to the plaintiff, regardless of whether the defendant exercised reasonable care to prevent the defect.
Rix v. General Motors Corp. 一 To succeed on a manufacturing defect claim, a plaintiff must establish that the product was defectively manufactured by the defendant, the product reached the consumer without substantial change, and the defect proximately caused the injury.
Welge v. Planters Lifesavers Co. 一 A seller may be liable for a defective product even if the defect was introduced by another party during another stage of production. Furthermore, a plaintiff need not exclude every other possible cause to succeed on a manufacturing defect claim.
McKenzie v. SK Hand Tool Corp. 一 A product’s failure to conform with the defendant’s design specifications may be evidence of its defective condition.
Metro. Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Deere & Co. 一 Whether a defect existed when the product left the manufacturer’s or seller’s control may be established by circumstantial evidence if there is sufficient evidence to establish that the incident would not ordinarily occur in the absence of a defect, and that any defect most likely existed at the time when the product left the manufacturer’s or seller’s control and was not a result of other reasonably possible causes.
Schafer v. JLC Food Systems, Inc. 一 A seller or distributor of food products may be liable for a defective food product if a reasonable consumer would not expect the food product to contain the ingredient that caused the harm.
Transue v. Aesthetech Corp. 一 Manufacturers of medical devices, such as breast implants, only available through a prescribing physician are not shielded from strict liability for manufacturing defects.
A product design is generally defective when a flaw or error in the design makes it unreasonably dangerous. Courts may apply the consumer expectations test or the risk-utility test. Under the consumer expectations test, a product design is defective if it fails to perform as a reasonable consumer would expect it to perform. Under the risk-utility test, a product design is defective if the utility of the product as designed is outweighed by the risk of injury to the consumer.
Barker v. Lull Engineering Co. 一 A product is defectively designed if it does not work as the ordinary consumer would expect when used in an intended or reasonably foreseeable manner. Alternatively, a design defect exists when the design’s benefits are outweighed by its inherent risks.
Prentis v. Yale Manufacturing Co. 一 The same elements and evidence are required to show a breach of implied warranty claim and a negligence claim in a products liability action against a manufacturer based on a design defect, and these elements are different from a strict liability claim based on a manufacturing defect.
Dawson v. Chrysler Corp. 一 A product is defective if it is not fit, suitable, and safe for an intended or reasonably foreseeable purpose.
Wright v. Brooke Group Ltd. 一 A design is defective if the foreseeable risks of harm posed by the design could have been reduced or avoided with a reasonable alternative design, and the product is unreasonably unsafe without the alternative design.
O’Brien v. Muskin Corp. 一 Under a risk-utility analysis, a product is defective if its risks outweigh its utility. A product that meets the current level of technological sophistication at the time of its design still may be considered to have a design defect under a risk-utility analysis.
Parish v. JumpKing, Inc. 一 Some products have such a low social utility and a high risk that a defendant may be liable even if the plaintiff proposes no alternative design, but trampolines do not generally fit this exception.
Price v. Blaine Kern Artista, Inc. 一 A design defect may be the proximate cause of an injury if the nature of that injury was of a kind and degree within the scope of risk that the defendant should have addressed in designing the product.
Friedman v. General Motors Corp. 一 A design defect may be established by circumstantial evidence so long as a preponderance of the evidence establishes that the injury was caused by a defect rather than another possibility. However, other possibilities need not be completely eliminated.
Freeman v. Hoffman-La Roche, Inc. 一 Whether manufacturers of pharmaceuticals should be shielded from strict liability for a design defect should be determined on a case-by-case basis. Manufacturers may escape strict liability by an affirmative defense if the prescription drug was properly manufactured and contained adequate warnings, its benefits justify its risks, and it was incapable of being made safer at the time of manufacture and distribution.
Sellers have a duty to provide appropriate warnings and instructions to consumers. However, whether a warning or instruction is adequate depends on factors such as the obviousness of the danger or risk, the likelihood of danger without a warning, and any sophisticated knowledge on the part of the user.
American Tobacco Co. v. Grinnell 一 A manufacturer generally has a duty to warn of a danger that it knows or should know may be caused by its product. However, there is no duty to warn if the risks associated with the product are common knowledge.
Anderson v. Owens-Corning Fiberglass Corp. 一 Strict liability based on a failure to warn requires that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the potential danger. State-of-the-art evidence may be introduced in a failure-to-warn case to show that a particular risk was neither known nor knowable by the defendant when applying the scientific knowledge available at the time of manufacturing or distribution.
Moran v. Faberge 一 A manufacturer has a duty to warn not just of the risks associated with a product’s intended use, but also of the risks associated with any reasonably foreseeable use or condition of use. It is not necessary that the exact sequence of events be foreseeable, but only the type of harm that results.
Coffman v. Keene Corp. 一 There is a rebuttable presumption that a plaintiff would have read and followed a warning had one been provided.
Liriano v. Hobart Corp. 一 A manufacturer may be liable for a failure to warn of a danger presented by a foreseeable alteration by a third party. However, there may be no duty to warn when the danger is obvious.
Jones v. Amazing Products, Inc. 一 A manufacturer may breach a duty to warn by either failing to adequately communicate a warning or failing to provide an adequate warning. A plaintiff’s failure to read the warning will bar any recovery for a failure to provide a warning, but not necessarily for a failure to adequately communicate a warning, such as by printing the warning in very small print.
Broussard v. Continental Oil Co. 一 A small notice on the side of a drill cautioning users to check the owner’s manual pamphlet in the drill box for safe operation may be an adequate warning.
MacDonald v. Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp. 一 A warning may not be adequate if it is not comprehensible to the average user and does not fairly convey the extent of the danger to a reasonably prudent person.
Hood v. Ryobi America Corp. 一 A manufacturer’s duty to warn may be satisfied even if it does not explain in rigorous detail all of the possible risks that could result from not heeding the warning.
Brown v. McDonald’s Corp. 一 Whether a manufacturer exercised reasonable care in providing warnings depends on both the likelihood and the seriousness of the potential harm. A manufacturer may have a duty to warn of a risk associated with an allergic reaction to its product if the product contains an ingredient to which a substantial number of people are allergic, a reasonable consumer would not expect to find the ingredient in the product, and the manufacturer knows or should have known of the presence of the ingredient and its danger.
Brooks v. Medtronic, Inc. 一 Like a prescription drug manufacturer, a pacemaker manufacturer has no duty to warn beyond warning physicians, who are learned intermediaries in the best position to understand a patient’s needs and evaluate the risks.
Johnson v. American Standard 一 The sophisticated user doctrine negates a manufacturer’s duty to warn of a product’s potential danger if the plaintiff has or should have superior knowledge of the product’s inherent hazards because of their particular expertise.
Defenses in Products Liability
Defendants in products liability cases may raise certain defenses to reduce or eliminate their liability. Theories of defense available in products liability actions include comparative fault, unforeseeable misuse, preemption, and superseding cause.
Daly v. General Motors Corp. 一 Comparative fault may apply to reduce a plaintiff’s recovery in a strict products liability case when the injury results in part from the plaintiff’s own negligence.
Ford Motor Co. v. Matthews 一 An unforeseeable misuse may be a valid defense in a failure-to-warn case, but a foreseeable misuse may not bar a strict products liability action.
Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc. 一 The Medical Device Amendments to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act preempt state common-law claims challenging the safety or effectiveness of medical devices marketed in a form that received pre-market approval from the FDA.
Wyeth v. Levine 一 State tort law claims, such as failure-to-warn claims, are not preempted by the FDCA with regard to prescription drugs, but they are an additional level of safeguards for consumers that complements the goals of the FDA.
Rodriguez v. Glock, Inc. 一 An intervening cause may be sufficient to break the chain of events and thus negate the element of proximate cause necessary to recover damages in a products liability action.
Products Liability and Services
Parties are generally not liable for a product defect if they are engaged in the business of selling a service, rather than a product. However, liability may arise under limited circumstances when a defective product is sold or used in the course of providing a service.
Hector v. Cedars-Sinai Medical Ctr. 一 When hospitals are generally engaged in selling services, rather than products, they may not be held strictly liable for providing defective products.
Magrine v. Krasnica 一 A dentist is generally not liable for a defective product used while rendering services because a dentist is in no better position than the patient to discover or correct a latent defect. Furthermore, the essence of the transaction between a dentist or physician and their patient is the professional service, in contrast to the essence of the transaction between a retailer and a consumer, which relates to the article sold.
Newmark v. Gimbel’s Inc. 一 When a transaction is a combination of the sale of a service and the sale of a product, a retailer may be strictly liable for a defective product in some cases when the service involves a commercial recommendation to use the defective product.
Liability for misrepresentation generally involves a representation of an untrue material fact on which the plaintiff relies to their detriment. Liability may depend on a number of factors, including whether the party making the representation knows that the representation is false, whether they know that the recipient will rely on the information for a serious purpose, or whether one party has superior knowledge.
Swinton v. Whitinsville Savings Bank 一 A mere failure to reveal information is not enough to impose liability for fraudulent misrepresentation when there is no fiduciary relationship between the parties or any evidence to suggest that the parties were not equally able to obtain the information.
Griffith v. Byers Constr. Co. 一 An individual who conceals a known material condition that will justifiably induce another party to act or refrain from acting in a business transaction may be liable for fraudulent concealment if they are under a duty to exercise reasonable care.
Derry v. Peek 一 There can be no liability for deceit or fraud when there is no evidence that the defendant knew their statement to be false or made the statement with reckless disregard for its falsity.
International Products Co. v. Erie R.R. Co. 一 Liability may arise for a negligent statement when there is a duty to give the correct information, such as when the defendant knew or had reason to know that the plaintiff would reasonably rely on the defendant’s statement for a serious purpose and would be harmed if the information was wrong.
Hanberry v. Hearst Corp. 一 One may be liable for negligent misrepresentation when they endorse a defective product in a manner meant to induce purchase by implying that they have independently examined the product with some degree of expertise and found it satisfactory.
Williams v. Rank & Son Buick, Inc. 一 A plaintiff may not recover damages under a theory of misrepresentation for relying on a false statement when the veracity of the statement could be detected by ordinary observation.
Saxby v. Southern Land Co. 一 An opinion may not give rise to liability for misrepresentation, since an individual is not ordinarily justified in relying on a statement that is sufficiently indefinite to constitute an opinion.
Vulcan Metals Co. v. Simmons Mfg. Co. 一 When parties stand on equal footing during bargaining, such as by being able to independently inspect the subject product, statements of puffery will not give rise to liability.
Sorenson v. Gardner 一 Liability for misrepresentation may be imposed if a representation concerns an opinion as to the legal consequences of facts known only to the individual making the misrepresentation, and the recipient is justified in assuming that the facts necessary for that statement to be true exist.
McElrath v. Electric Investment Co. 一 Predictions of future intentions are not generally actionable misrepresentations unless they intend to make the recipient believe that the intent presently exists in the mind of some party, especially when it concerns the present intent of the defendant.
Burgdorfer v. Thielemann 一 A misrepresentation as to the state of a person’s mind is a misrepresentation as to a fact and therefore may support an action for fraudulent misrepresentation. Furthermore, the statute of frauds is not a defense to such a fraudulent misrepresentation.
Ultramares Corp. v. Touche 一 An accountant may not be liable to third parties not in privity with the accountant for negligent misrepresentations in financial statements, but only for fraudulent misrepresentations. (This principle was later revised by cases such as Credit Alliance and Citizens State Bank.)
Credit Alliance Corp. v. Anderson Co. 一 Accountants are not generally liable to third parties who rely on their financial statements without privity or evidence that the accountant knew or should have known that the third party would rely on their statements for a particular purpose and some conduct linking the accountant to the party that shows the accountant’s understanding of that reliance.
Citizens State Bank v. Timm, Schmidt & Co. 一 Accountants may be liable to third parties who rely on their financial statements when it is foreseeable that they will rely on such statements, regardless of privity, unless public policy suggests that recovery should be denied.
Interference With Advantageous Relationships
A party may be liable for interfering with an advantageous relationship if they intentionally act to negatively affect another party’s relationship with a third party. The improper conduct giving rise to liability must go beyond the interference itself.
Ratcliffe v. Evans 一 Evidence of general damages is sufficient to sustain an action for false and malicious publication.
Horning v. Hardy 一 Injurious falsehood only arises when an individual makes statements about another party that they know to be false, or makes statements that they know might be false, with the intent to cause harm. However, a conditional privilege may be a valid defense to injurious falsehood.
Testing Systems, Inc. v. Magnaflux Corp. 一 Ordinarily, no liability for disparagement is imposed for statements that unfavorably compare a competitor’s product to the product of the declarant. However, liability may arise when the statement is closer to an assertion of fact than an opinion. The plaintiff must be able to show specific damages unless the defendant’s actions are libelous per se.
Lumley v. Gye 一 One may be liable for maliciously interfering with the contractual relationship of another party.
Brimelow v. Casson 一 Intentional interference with a contractual relationship may be justified if it is done for the public good.
Harmon v. Harmon 一 Interference with an expected inheritance may support a cause of action for wrongful interference when a plaintiff can prove that but for the tortious interference, they would likely have received the gift.
This outline has been compiled by the Justia team for solely educational purposes and should not be treated as an independent source of legal authority or a summary of the current state of the law. Students should use this outline as a supplement rather than a substitute for course-specific outlines.