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Birth of Product Liability

Posted on:10/26/2012
The age of technology has confounded the concept of fault. The American consumer acquires a bewildering assortment of machines, appliances, and pharmaceutical drugs as well as other products that pose unseen dangers.


The age of technology has confounded the concept of fault. The American consumer acquires a bewildering assortment of machines, appliances, and pharmaceutical drugs as well as other products that pose unseen dangers.

 

Manufacturers may exercise reasonable precautions to make their products safe and certainly do not intend to injure their customers, so it is difficult to assign fault under theories of negligence or intentional tort. The purchase of products creates a contractual relationship, but ordinary contract remedies do not contemplate compensation for personal injury.

 

Early in the twentieth century, judges were troubled by innocent victims of defective products who could not prove fault on the part of the producer. As America became a mighty industrial power, courts became less concerned about protecting business from ruinous lawsuits and more concerned about the hapless victims of their products. It did not seem just that a company could reap large profits from sales of its products without compensating those injured by them. A number of cases strained at the concept of fault to protect innocent parties, and in 1963 Justice Traynor of the California Supreme Court wrote the opinion, in Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc., 59 Cal. 2d 57, 377 P.2d 897, that announced the birth of product liability.

 

Perhaps no case in the common law has had a more immediate and far-reaching effect on American law. The Restatement of Torts responded two years later with § 402A, which elaborated on the Greenman decision. Section 402A was adopted in some form by state after state in rapid succession. In a few short years, numerous cases served to refine the principles of product liability. Never has such a vast body of law so quickly fixed a cause of action so firmly in the law.


  
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