California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) (2017)

1203. Strict Liability - Design Defect - Consumer Expectation Test—Essential Factual Elements

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1203.Strict Liability—Design Defect—Consumer Expectation
Test—Essential Factual Elements
[Name of plaintiff] claims the [product]’s design was defective because the
[product] did not perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would have
expected it to perform. To establish this claim, [name of plaintiff] must
prove all of the following:
1. That [name of defendant] [manufactured/distributed/sold] the
[product];
2. That the [product] did not perform as safely as an ordinary
consumer would have expected it to perform when used or
misused in an intended or reasonably foreseeable way;
3. That [name of plaintiff] was harmed; and
4. That the [product]’s failure to perform safely was a substantial
factor in causing [name of plaintiff]’s harm.
New September 2003; Revised December 2005, April 2009, December 2009, June
2011
Directions for Use
If both tests (the consumer expectation test and the risk-benefit test) for design
defect are asserted by the plaintiff, the burden-of-proof instructions must make it
clear that the two tests are alternatives. (Bracisco v. Beech Aircraft Corp. (1984)
159 Cal.App.3d 1101, 1106–1107 [206 Cal.Rptr. 431].)
The court must make an initial determination as to whether the consumer
expectation test applies to the product. In some cases, the court may determine that
the product is one to which the test may, but not necessarily does, apply, leaving
the determination to the jury. (See Saller v. Crown Cork & Seal Co., Inc. (2010)
187 Cal.App.4th 1220, 1233–1234 [115 Cal.Rptr.3d 151].) In such a case, modify
the instruction to advise the jury that it must first determine whether the product is
one about which an ordinary consumer can form reasonable minimum safety
expectations.
To make a prima facie case, the plaintiff has the initial burden of producing
evidence that he or she was injured while the product was being used in an
intended or reasonably foreseeable manner. If this prima facie burden is met, the
burden of proof shifts to the defendant to prove that the plaintiff’s injury resulted
from a misuse of the product. (See Perez v. VAS S.p.A. (2010) 188 Cal.App.4th
658, 678 [115 Cal.Rptr.3d 590] [risk-benefit case]; see also CACI No. 1245,
Affırmative Defense—Product Misuse or Modification.) Product misuse is a
complete defense to strict products liability if the defendant proves that an
unforeseeable abuse or alteration of the product after it left the manufacturer’s
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hands was the sole cause of the plaintiff’s injury. (Campbell v. Southern Pacific Co.
(1978) 22 Cal.3d 51, 56 [148 Cal.Rptr. 596, 583 P.2d 121]; see CACI No. 1245.)
Misuse or modification that was a substantial factor in, but not the sole cause of,
plaintiff’s harm may also be considered in determining the comparative fault of the
plaintiff or of third persons. See CACI No. 1207A, Strict Liability—Comparative
Fault of Plaintiff, and CACI No. 1207B, Strict Liability—Comparative Fault of
Third Person.
Sources and Authority
• “A manufacturer, distributor, or retailer is liable in tort if a defect in the
manufacture or design of its product causes injury while the product is being
used in a reasonably foreseeable way.” (Soule v. General Motors Corp. (1994) 8
Cal.4th 548, 560 [34 Cal.Rptr.2d 607, 882 P.2d 298].)
• “[T]he term defect as utilized in the strict liability context is neither self-
defining nor susceptible to a single definition applicable in all contexts.”
(Johnson v. United States Steel Corp. (2015) 240 Cal.App.4th 22, 31 [192
Cal.Rptr.3d 158].)
• “[A] product is defective in design either (1) if the product has failed to
perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect when used in an
intended or reasonably foreseeable manner, or (2) if, in light of the relevant
factors . . . , the benefits of the challenged design do not outweigh the risk of
danger inherent in such design.” (Barker v. Lull Engineering Co. (1978) 20
Cal.3d 413, 418 [143 Cal.Rptr. 225, 573 P.2d 443].)
• “The [consumer-expectation and risk-benefit] tests provide alternative means for
a plaintiff to prove design defect and do not serve as defenses to one another. A
product may be defective under the consumer expectation test even if the
benefits of the design outweigh the risks. [Citation.] On the other hand, a
product may be defective if it satisfies consumer expectations but contains an
excessively preventable danger in that the risks of the design outweigh its
benefits.” (Chavez v. Glock, Inc. (2012) 207 Cal.App.4th 1283, 1303 [144
Cal.Rptr.3d 326].)
• “The rationale of the consumer expectations test is that ‘[t]he purposes,
behaviors, and dangers of certain products are commonly understood by those
who ordinarily use them.’ Therefore, in some cases, ordinary knowledge of the
product’s characteristics may permit an inference that the product did not
perform as safely as it should. ‘If the facts permit such a conclusion, and if the
failure resulted from the product’s design, a finding of defect is warranted
without any further proof,’ and the manufacturer may not defend by presenting
expert evidence of a risk/benefit analysis. . . . Nonetheless, the inherent
complexity of the product itself is not controlling on the issue of whether the
consumer expectations test applies; a complex product ‘may perform so
unsafely that the defect is apparent to the common reason, experience, and
understanding of its ordinary consumers.’ ” (Saller, supra, 187 Cal.App.4th at p.
1232, original italics, internal citations omitted.)
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• “The critical question, in assessing the applicability of the consumer expectation
test, is not whether the product, when considered in isolation, is beyond the
ordinary knowledge of the consumer, but whether the product, in the context of
the facts and circumstances of its failure, is one about which the ordinary
consumers can form minimum safety expectations.” (Pannu v. Land Rover
North America, Inc. (2011) 191 Cal.App.4th 1298, 1311–1312 [120 Cal.Rptr.3d
605].)
• “Whether the jury should be instructed on either the consumer expectations test
or the risk/benefit test depends upon the particular facts of the case. In a jury
case, the trial court must initially determine as a question of foundation, within
the context of the facts and circumstances of the particular case, whether the
product is one about which the ordinary consumer can form reasonable
minimum safety expectations. ‘If the court concludes it is not, no consumer
expectation instruction should be given. . . . If, on the other hand, the trial
court finds there is sufficient evidence to support a finding that the ordinary
consumer can form reasonable minimum safety expectations, the court should
instruct the jury, consistent with Evidence Code section 403, subdivision (c), to
determine whether the consumer expectation test applies to the product at issue
in the circumstances of the case [or] to disregard the evidence about consumer
expectations unless the jury finds that the test is applicable. If it finds the test
applicable, the jury then must decide whether the product failed to perform as
safely as an ordinary consumer would expect when the product is used in an
intended or reasonably foreseeable manner.’ ” (Saller, supra, 187 Cal.App.4th at
pp. 1233–1234, internal citations omitted.)
• “[The] dual standard for design defect assures an injured plaintiff protection
from products that either fall below ordinary consumer expectations as to safety
or that, on balance, are not as safely designed as they should be.” (Barker,
supra, 20 Cal.3d at p. 418.)
• The consumer expectation test “acknowledges the relationship between strict
tort liability for a defective product and the common law doctrine of warranty,
which holds that a product’s presence on the market includes an implied
representation ‘that it [will] safely do the jobs for which it was built.’ ” (Soule,
supra, 8 Cal.4th at p. 562, internal citations omitted.)
• “[T]he jury may not be left free to find a violation of ordinary consumer
expectations whenever it chooses. Unless the facts actually permit an inference
that the product’s performance did not meet the minimum safety expectations of
its ordinary users, the jury must engage in the balancing of risks and benefits
required by the second prong of Barker. Accordingly, as Barker indicated,
instructions are misleading and incorrect if they allow a jury to avoid this risk-
benefit analysis in a case where it is required.” (Soule, supra, 8 Cal.4th at p.
568.)
• “[T]he consumer expectation test is reserved for cases in which the everyday
experience of the product’s users permits a conclusion that the product’s design
violated minimum safety assumptions, and is thus defective regardless of expert
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opinion about the merits of the design.” (Soule, supra, 8 Cal.4th at p. 567,
original italics.)
• “If the facts permit an inference that the product at issue is one about which
consumers may form minimum safety assumptions in the context of a particular
accident, then it is enough for a plaintiff, proceeding under the consumer
expectation test, to show the circumstances of the accident and ‘the objective
features of the product which are relevant to an evaluation of its safety’
[citation], leaving it to the fact finder to ‘employ “[its] own sense of whether
the product meets ordinary expectations as to its safety under the circumstances
presented by the evidence.” ’ [Citations.] Expert testimony as to what
consumers ordinarily ‘expect’ is generally improper.” (Chavez, supra, 207
Cal.App.4th at p. 1303.)
• “That causation for a plaintiff’s injuries was proved through expert testimony
does not mean that an ordinary consumer would be unable to form assumptions
about the product’s safety. Accordingly, the trial court properly instructed the
jury on the consumer expectations test.” (Romine v. Johnson Controls, Inc.
(2014) 224 Cal.App.4th 990, 1004 [169 Cal.Rptr.3d 208], internal citations
omitted.)
• “An exception [to the rule that expert testimony is generally improper] exists
where the product is in specialized use with a limited group of consumers. In
such cases, ‘if the expectations of the product’s limited group of ordinary
consumers are beyond the lay experience common to all jurors, expert
testimony on the limited subject of what the product’s actual consumers do
expect may be proper.’ ” (McCabe v. American Honda Motor Co. (2002) 100
Cal.App.4th 1111, 1120 fn. 3 [123 Cal.Rptr.2d 303], internal citations omitted.)
• “In determining whether a product’s safety satisfies [the consumer expectation
test], the jury considers the expectations of a hypothetical reasonable consumer,
rather than those of the particular plaintiff in the case.” (Campbell v. General
Motors Corp. (1982) 32 Cal.3d 112, 126, fn. 6 [184 Cal.Rptr. 891, 649 P.2d
224].)
• “[E]vidence as to what the scientific community knew about the dangers . . .
and when they knew it is not relevant to show what the ordinary consumer of
[defendant]’s product reasonably expected in terms of safety at the time of
[plaintiff]’s exposure. It is the knowledge and reasonable expectations of the
consumer, not the scientific community, that is relevant under the consumer
expectations test.” (Morton v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp. (1995) 33
Cal.App.4th 1529, 1536 [40 Cal.Rptr.2d 22].)
• “Where liability depends on the proof of a design defect, no practical difference
exists between negligence and strict liability; the claims merge.” (Lambert v.
General Motors (1998) 67 Cal.App.4th 1179, 1185 [79 Cal.Rptr.2d 657].)
• “ ‘[T]he law now requires a manufacturer to foresee some degree of misuse and
abuse of his product, either by the user or by third parties, and to take
reasonable precautions to minimize the harm that may result from misuse and
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abuse. . . . [T]he extent to which designers and manufacturers of dangerous
machinery are required to anticipate safety neglect presents an issue of fact.’ ”
(Wright v. Stang Manufacturing Co. (1997) 54 Cal.App.4th 1218, 1235 [63
Cal.Rptr.2d 422].)
• “[T]he plaintiff bears an initial burden of making ‘a prima facie showing that
the injury was proximately caused by the product’s design.’ This showing
requires evidence that the plaintiff was injured while using the product in an
intended or reasonably foreseeable manner and that the plaintiff’s ability to
avoid injury was frustrated by the absence of a safety device, or by the nature
of the product’s design. If this prima facie burden is met, the burden of proof
shifts to the defendant to prove, in light of the relevant factors, that the product
is not defective. Importantly, the plaintiff’s prima facie burden of producing
evidence that injury occurred while the product was being used in an intended
or reasonably foreseeable manner must be distinguished from the ultimate
burden of proof that rests with the defendant to establish that its product was
not defective because the plaintiff’s injury resulted from a misuse of the
product.” (Perez, supra, 188 Cal.App.4th at p. 678, original italics, internal
citations omitted.)
• “The use of asbestos insulation is a product that is within the understanding of
ordinary lay consumers.” (Saller, supra, 187 Cal.App.4th at p. 1236.)
Secondary Sources
6 Witkin, Summary of California Law (10th ed. 2005) Torts, §§ 1449–1467
Haning et al., California Practice Guide: Personal Injury, Ch. 2(II)-D, Strict
Liability For Defective Products, ¶¶ 2:1220–2:1222 (The Rutter Group)
California Products Liability Actions, Ch. 2, Liability for Defective Products,
§ 2.11, Ch. 7, Proof, § 7.02 (Matthew Bender)
40 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 460, Products Liability, § 460.11
(Matthew Bender)
19 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 190, Products Liability, § 190.116
(Matthew Bender)
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