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Legal Memorandum: Jury Instructions of Foreseeable Misuse in NJ

Issue: In New Jersey, what is the standard definition of foreseeable misuse for use in Jury Instructions?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Foreseeable misuse; Standard definition; No escape from liability
Jurisdiction: New Jersey
Cited Cases: 76 N.J. 152
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 01/01/2005

In New Jersey, "a manufacturer has a duty to make sure that its manufactured products placed in the stream of commerce are suitably safe when properly used for their intended or reasonably foreseeable purposes."  Brown v. United States Stove Co., 484 A.2d 1234, 1239 (N.J. 1984).  If a product is not suitably safe when so used because of a defect inherent in its design the manufacturer will be strictly liable in tort for any resultant injuries to foreseeable users.  Id. at 1239.  In other words, in a design defect case, "manufacturers cannot escape liability on grounds of misuse or abnormal use if the actual use proximate to the injury was objectively foreseeable."  Id. at 1240 (quoting Capeda v. Cumberland Eng’g Co., 76 N.J. 152, 177, 386 A.2d 816 (1978)).

Foreseeability in the design defect context has been defined as "reasonable foreseeability" using an objective standard; "it need not be actual."  Id.  If a factual issue exists, the determination of the objective foreseeability of a misuse is a jury question.  Id.  Whereas lack of actual knowledge of a misuse may establish lack of subjective foreseeability, it does not, as a matter of law, rebut evidence of objective foreseeability.  Id.  Even if foreseeability is established, the issue of liability still must undergo a risk-utility analysis.  Id.

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