In Maryland product liability cases, courts will apply one of two tests to determine if the manufacturer can be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. Where a product is alleged to have a malfunction, courts will apply the “risk-utility” test. However, when there is no allegation that the product malfunctioned in any way, courts will apply the “consumer expectations” test.
Under a risk-utility analysis, courts consider whether the danger presented by the product is outweighed by its utility. A recent opinion issued by a state appellate court illustrates the application of the risk-utility test.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff purchased a heating pad that was manufactured by the defendant. The plaintiff was using the heating pad as she was lying in bed, and fell asleep while the pad was on. About 90 minutes later, the plaintiff’s roommate came into the plaintiff’s room after noticing a strange smell. As it turns out, the heating pad had burned into the sheets and mattress, ultimately burning the house down. The Fire Chief determined that the heating pad was the cause of the fire.
The plaintiff filed a product liability lawsuit against the defendant manufacturer, claiming that the heating pad suffered from a defective design. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed the pad was defective because it was able to reach a temperature high enough to start a fire, it did not have a temperature-control function, and there was no internal shut-off mechanism for when the product reached unsafe temperatures. The manufacturer claimed that the plaintiff misused the heating pad by falling asleep with the pad on.
The Court’s Analysis
The court first explained that this type of design defect claim that calls into question an entire product line, rather than one specific unit, the risk-utility test applies. Under a risk-utility analysis, the court explained that the question is one of reasonableness. In other words, was the manufacturer reasonable in choosing the specific design of the product given the available alternative designs. This, the court noted, requires the consideration of several factors, including:
- the usefulness of the product;
- the danger posed by the design;
- the avoidability of the dangers posed;
- the warnings on the product; and
- the manufacturer’s ability to change the design without negatively affecting the product’s performance or usefulness.
The court held that the plaintiff failed to present any evidence that the heating pad was defective and dismissed her claim. The court explained that inferences “must be based on probabilities, rather than mere possibilities.” The court then noted that the plaintiff’s claims involved allegations that the pad reached too high a temperature, however, the plaintiff presented no evidence explaining what temperatures were safe. Instead, the plaintiff relied on the factfinder making the inference that, because the pad started the fire the temperature was too high. Here, the court held that the plaintiff’s argument as to what occurred was a “mere possibility” based on the lack of evidence supporting the plaintiff’s claim.
Have You Been Injured by a Dangerous Product?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured while using a dangerous or defective product, the Maryland product liability attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC can help. At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we have over 20 years of experience advocating on behalf of the injured across Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. To learn more about how we can help you pursue a claim for compensation based on the injuries you have sustained, call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation today.
More Blog Posts:
Not All Maryland Liability Release Waivers Are Enforceable, Maryland Accident Law Blog, January 2, 2019.
The Issue of Government Immunity in Maryland Personal Injury Cases, Maryland Accident Law Blog, January 16, 2019.