Earlier this month, an appellate court in Nevada issued a written opinion in a product liability case that will be of interest to anyone who is considering filing a Maryland product liability lawsuit. The case required the court to consider the defendant auto manufacturer’s argument that the risk-utility test should be adopted over the consumer-expectations test, which had long been the prevailing test for product liability claims. Ultimately, the court rejected the auto manufacturer’s request to adopt the risk-utility test and affirmed the jury’s verdict in favor of the plaintiff.
Maryland courts apply the consumer-expectations test when evaluating a product liability lawsuit. This test requires courts to put themselves in the position of a consumer, asking whether the product at issue performed as expected under the circumstances. Some other jurisdictions apply the risk-utility test, which asks whether there is a reasonably safe alternative design that the manufacturer could have used rather than the design that was actually used. Under this test, it is the plaintiff’s burden to establish that the reasonable alternative exists.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff was driving an SUV manufactured by the defendant, with her husband riding as the front-seat passenger. As the plaintiff attempted a lane change, the trailer she was towing began to fishtail, and the SUV flipped over, rolling several times. When the vehicle came to a stop, it was resting on its roof. The plaintiff was able to slip out of the window, but her husband was crushed. The plaintiff filed this product liability lawsuit against the auto manufacturer, claiming that the SUV’s roof was not sufficiently tested and was defectively designed.