The Test for Proving Defective Design Under Washington, D.C. Law

In a Washington, D.C. product liability case, a plaintiff must prove that a defendant is responsible for harm to the plaintiff caused by the defendant’s product. Different parties in the chain of production may be liable for a harmful product, including a manufacturer and a retail store owner. A products liability case is based on strict liability, meaning that the defendant is strictly liable as long as there is a defect. In a Washington, D.C. strict liability case, a plaintiff has to show: that the seller engaged in the business of selling the product at issue; that the product was defective and unreasonably dangerous when it was sold to the consumer; that the seller expected to reach and the product reached the consumer without any substantial change in the product’s condition; and that the defect directly and proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries.

How Do Courts Determine if a Product Was Defective?

In general, there are two tests often used to determine if a product’s design was defective. The first is the consumer-expectations test. Under the consumer-expectations test, the relevant question is whether a product failed to perform in the manner that the ordinary consumer would reasonably expect when used in an intended or reasonably foreseeable manner. The second test is the risk-utility test. Under the risk-utility test, the question is whether the product’s inherent risk of harm outweighed the product’s utility. Potentially, either the consumer-expectation test or the risk-utility test may apply in a Washington, D.C. injury case, depending on the facts of the case.

A federal appeals court recently upheld a product liability award of $4,050,000 after the man was injured by an unguarded blade on a meat saw at work. The plaintiff was the manager of a meat market at a supermarket. He was cutting meat and cut through his arm after he was called away and forgot to put on the meat saw’s blade guard. When he had returned to the saw, he did not realize that the saw was active and unguarded and reached for a box cutter, making contact with the active blade. He had to have his arm amputated as a result.

The plaintiff subsequently filed a products liability claim for negligent product design against the manufacturer. He alleged that the saw’s adjustable blade guard unreasonably required that the operator to manually raise and lower the guard for it to block the blade. The plaintiff had an expert who testified that the design was defective and that had the saw been designed with a self-deploying blade guard, the injury would not have occurred.

The court upheld the award, finding that there was sufficient evidence of negligent design. The court explained that there was a reasonable basis for a jury to conclude there was a design defect with respect to the blade guard. The court also noted that the risk of serious injury was great, other designs were safer that also met the same needs, and it would not be unduly expensive to implement the alternate designs.

Call a Washington, D.C. Products Liability Lawyer

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury from a defective product and believe a company or business may be at fault, call a Washington, D.C. product liability attorney today to discuss your claim. At Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, our Washington, D.C. injury attorneys are zealous advocates for individuals who have been the victims of defective products. Our firm has decades of combined experience evaluating and preparing cases in Washington, D.C., and the surrounding areas. Contact us at 1-800-654-1949 or fill out our online form to set up a free consultation.

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