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Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Considers Whether to Adopt Different Legal Standards for Strict Liability

When injuries occur because of faulty products, it can initially be difficult to realize that a defective product was the cause, and that the manufacturer or seller of the product should be held responsible.  Pennsylvania law is controlled by Section 402A of the Restatement 2d of Torts, which states that a seller of a product is liable for harm caused by such a product when it is sold in a defective condition that is unreasonably dangerous to the user. This holds the seller strictly liable and means that negligence does not have to be shown, even if the seller exercised all possible care in the preparation and sale of this product.  If someone is injured because of a defective product, whether through physical harm or property damage, he or shecan hold the seller accountable and receive compensation for the injuries.

The recent case, Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., was an extensive ruling that weighed whether or not to adopt Section 2 under the Restatement 3d of Torts.  While the underlying case involved property damage alone, it is instructive for all strict liability actions, including those involving personal injury.  After a non-injury fire in the central unit of a two-story triplex building, an investigation revealed that the fire was caused by a lightning strike near the home that caused a small puncture in the tubing that transported natural gas to the fireplace in the residence.  The fire burned for over an hour and caused much damage to the home and the owners’ belongings.  The tubing was sold by the defendant company as part of a gas transportation system.  

The owners filed a claim with their insurance company, but the loss far exceeded the policy limits.  The owners then filed a claim against the manufacturer of the tubing system, seeking reimbursement of  the expenses exceeding their insurance coverage.  The owners alleged that the tubing system to be defective and unreasonably dangerous to intended users because the walls of the tube were too thin to withstand the effects of lightning.  The owners presented experts in electrical engineering and metallurgy who opined the system was inherently defective because the walls were only 1/100 of an inch think and had a probability near 100% that the walls would be perforated by lightning.  The experts showed that an alternate design for a natural gas conduit using black iron pipe is 10 times thicker, and that the design used for the tubing in question was 50,000 to a million times more likely to perforate.

The pipe manufacturer pointed to the fact that its system conforms with the Fuel Gas Code and national Electric Code, as well as all the minimum performance standards overseeing its product.  The manufacturer argued that all the proof of the risks and benefits did not meet the threshold needed for a strict liability suit, showing the product was unreasonably dangerous.  The manufacturer also proposed the adoption of the Restatement 3d of torts, which would only subject a defendant to liability for damages if there were manufacturing defects, design defects, or failure to warn defects.  This would allow consideration of whether or not there were foreseeable risks of harm posed by the product that could have been reduced or avoided by the adoption of a reasonable alternative design.

The jury awarded the owners nearly a million dollars for various expenses incurred as a result of the fire.  On the initial appeal, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the verdict and determined that the 2d Restatement of Torts should continue to apply to strict liability cases.  The Supreme Court declined to vacate the award of damages or abandon Pennsylvania’s established case and statutory adoption of the Restatement 2d of Torts, but allowed the manufacturer’s other issues regarding the now-overruled case Azzarello v. Black Bros. Co., Inc., to be considered by the trial courts for consideration of relief.

The experienced Pennsylvania products liability attorneys at Needle Law Firm have the experience you need to maximize the damages you deserve.  Call today at 570-344-1266 for a free, confidential consultation.

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