Product Liability -- 2016

Amato v. Crane Co.   (Pennsylvania Supreme Court)

Standard of liability in failure-to-warn asbestos case

In the 2014 case Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., the Pennsylvania Supreme Court altered product liability law in the state but left many questions unanswered. The NAM filed an amicus brief in Tincher urging the court to adopt the modern product liability standards followed by a majority of state courts, but the court declined to completely adopt modern laws.

The combined cases of Amato v. Crane Co. and Vinciguerra v. Crane Co. were decided before Tincher was decided. These cases were appealed in light of the Tincher decision. The issue was what legal standard applies to determine liability in failure-to-warn cases. We argued that the jury or judge should decide whether a product is "unreasonably dangerous." The 2014 Tincher case changed Pennsylvania law so that the jury must balance the risks and the benefits of a product, but it did not specifically say the same reasoning applies to cases asserting a defendant’s failure to warn about hazards of a product, which includes all asbestos tort litigation. In the Pennsylvania appeals court, Crane Co. argued that after the Tincher decision, the cases should have been retried because the trial court rejected a proposed instruction asking the jury to determine whether the asbestos was “unreasonably dangerous,” but the court declined to overturn the two verdicts.

The NAM filed an amicus brief in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court explaining the history of tort law in Pennsylvania and arguing that juries should be permitted to consider what a manufacturer knew or should have known about a particular danger in strict liability claims based upon a failure to warn. Overall, the question now really is how Tincher might be transformed into a framework for the litigation of product liability cases. Manufacturers were hoping that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would adopt a more modern burden of proof, but the court dismissed the appeal without any explanation. Therefore, the lower court's decision stands, which stated a defendant may raise the state of the art defense if they concede the product was defective but could not have known it was defective in light of the current science. However, the defendant in this case was prohibited from raising the defense because they argued the product was not defective, so future defendants may raise this defense in limited circumstances. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision not to issue a decision still leaves this issue open for future litigation.

Related Documents:
NAM amicus brief  (March 14, 2016)


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