Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules that Evidence of a Product's Compliance With Industry Safety Standards Is Not Admissible in a Strict Liability Design Defect Case

In another notable victory for the Plaintiff's bar at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court level, that Court, in the case of Sullivan v. Werner Co., No. 18 EAP (Pa. Dec. 22, 2003) (Op. by Mundy, J.), addressed the issue of whether evidence of a product’s compliance with industry and government safety standards is admissible in a strict liability case following the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s previous decision in the case of Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., 104 A.3d 328 (Pa. 2014).

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that such compliance evidence is inadmissible in this context. 

This case arose out of a collapse of a mobile scaffold. The Plaintiff’s complained that the scaffold was defectively designed.

In the case below, the trial court granted a Plaintiff’s Motion to Preclude the Defendants from adding into evidence any industry or governmental standards with regards to the scaffolding. After a verdict was entered in favor of the Plaintiff, this appeal followed and went up the appellate ladder.

In the Sullivan case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that evidence of a product’s compliance with governmental regulations or industry standards is inadmissible in a strict liability design defect case to show that a product is not defective under the risk-utility theory because such evidence goes to the reasonableness of the manufacturer's conduct in making its design choice, not to the issue of whether the product was defectively designed.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of the Majority Opinion in this decision may click this LINK.

The Concurring Opinion by Justice Donohue can be viewed HERE.

The Dissenting Opinion by Chief Justice Todd can be viewed HERE.

I send thanks to Attorney Kenneth T. Newman of the Pittsburgh office of Thomas Thomas & Hafer for bringing this case to my attention.

Source of image:  Photo by Darya Sannikova on

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