Pennsylvania Superior Court Permits Evidence of Industry and Safety Standards In Products Liability Case Post-Tincher
On April 11, 2017, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s admission of evidence of industry and safety standards in the first products liability case considering this issue after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., 104 A.3d 328 (Pa. 2014).
In Renninger v. A&R Machine Shop, ___ A.3d ___, 2017 WL 1326515 (Pa. Super. 2017), an employee who built modular homes sued the defendant the designers, manufacturers, and suppliers when his foot was injured after a caster rolled over it on the assembly line. Plaintiff sued these designers, manufacturers, and suppliers of the casters, claiming the casters should have contained toe guards. Ultimately, the case proceeded to trial on a products liability / design defect claim. The jury entered a defense verdict, and one of the bases for Plaintiff’s appeal was that the trial court improperly allowed the introduction at trial of:
(1) Industry safety standards;
(2) OSHA safety standards;
(3) Employer conduct; and
(4) Conduct of third parties, including but not limited to assumption of risk by Plaintiff.
Notably, Plaintiff testified that he never was trained on OSHA standards nor aware of any requirement to use steel-toes boots.
The court began its analysis by summarizing the history of products liability in Pennsylvania, the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A, and ultimately the recent ruling in Tincher. Despite Plaintiff’s arguments, the court noted that “[n]owhere does the Court [in Tincher] state that negligence principles will not be relevant in a case where a plaintiff relies on risk-utility to establish a defective product.” Renninger, 2017 WL 1326515 at *7. Thus, nothing in Tincher “intended to maintain a strict division between negligence and strict liability principles in the risk-utility test.” Id.
The court considered the cases cited by both parties and distinguished all of them in light of the recent decision in Tincher. Ultimately, the court seemed to bypass a firm ruling on this issue, instead noting that any error was likely harmless and neither party has “offered any substantive argument for or against the admission of such evidence in Pennsylvania after Tincher.” Id. at *11. Thus, given the arguments, the court “d[id] not have occasion to express an opinion.” In light of all of foregoing, the Plaintiff’s arguments did not merit relief and the case was affirmed. Id.