Consumer Expectation Test Applies in Maryland Strict Products Liability Case Unless a Product Malfunctions

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland rejected a car manufacturer’s argument that the jury should use a risk-utility test and not a consumer expectation test in analyzing a strict products liability case.  The risk-utility test, preferred by the manufacturer, regards a product as defective and unreasonably dangerous for strict liability purposes if the danger presented by the product outweighs its utility.  In contrast, the consumer expectation test preferred by the plaintiff imposes strict liability for products that contain a condition not contemplated by the ultimate consumer, which is dangerous to an extent beyond that which would be contemplated by the ordinary consumer who purchases it with the ordinary knowledge common to the community as to its characteristics, if the seller is engaged in the business of selling such a product and it is expected to and does reach the consumer without substantial change in the condition in which it is sold.  The court held that under Maryland law, unless a product malfunctions, the consumer expectation test applied.

In the case, the plaintiff did not claim that the roof of the vehicle malfunctioned in a rollover crash.  Instead, the plaintiff claimed that the roof performed precisely as the car manufacturer designed it to perform, but that this particular design was flawed and should have required a stronger roof.  The court rejected the manufacturer’s position that a product malfunctions whenever a product that is not intended to cause harm does in fact cause harm for otherwise, all product liability cases would involve a malfunction and would require application of the risk-utility test.  The court accepted the plaintiff’s view that a product does not malfunction when it performs as it was designed to perform even if unintended harm results.

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