Legal Memorandum: Elements of a Design-defect Claim

Issue: What are the elements of a design-defect claim?

Area of Law: Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Design-defect claim; Product liability; Reasonable safety essential
Jurisdiction: New York
Cited Cases: 929 N.E.2d 380; 903 N.Y.S.2d 318; 450 N.E.2d 204; 463 N.Y.S.2d 398
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 09/01/2011

A design-defect claim consists of two principal elements:

In order to establish a prima facie case in strict products liability for design defects, the plaintiff must show that the manufacturer breached its duty to market safe products when it marketed a product designed so that it was [1] not reasonably safe and [2] that the defective design was a substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s injury.

Voss v. Black & Decker Mfg. Co., 59 N.Y.2d 102, 107, 450 N.E.2d 204, 463 N.Y.S.2d 398 (1983). 

The first element, that the product was not reasonably safe as designed, requires the plaintiff to produce evidence that, with respect to the product as designed, (1) “there was a substantial likelihood of harm,” and (2) that “it was feasible to design the product in a safer manner.”  Adams v. Genie Indus., Inc., 14 N.Y.3d 535, 542, 929 N.E.2d 380, 903 N.Y.S.2d 318 (2010) (quoting Voss, 59 N.Y.2d at 108).  Where there is evidence supporting both factors, summary judgment on this ground must be denied.  See id. (“It will be for the jury to decide whether a product was not reasonably safe in light of all the evidence presented by both plaintiff and defendant.”).


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