Legal Memorandum: Proving Causation in Strict Liability Action

Issue: Under Pennsylvania law, is evidence of a plaintiff’s conduct admissible on the issue of causation in a strict products liability action?

Area of Law: Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Causation; Strict products liability action; Heeded the warning
Jurisdiction: Pennsylvania
Cited Cases: 718 A.2d 305; 135 F.3d 876; 113 F.3d 1327; 714 A.2d 1043; 337 A.2d 893; 690 A.2d 186; 553 A.2d 900; 163 A. 523; 391 A.2d 1020
Cited Statutes: Restatement of Torts (Second) § 402A
Date: 09/01/2000

           A defendant supplier under Restatement of Torts (Second) § 402A faces strict liability but is not an insurer.  Davis v. Berwind Corp., 690 A.2d 186, 190 (Pa. 1997).  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court cases simply stand for the rule that in a failure to warn case the plaintiff must prove causation—that he or she would have heeded the warning if it had it been given.  Phillips v. A-Best Prods. Co., 665 A.2d 1167, 1171 (Pa. 1995); Sherk v. Daisy-Heddon, 450 A.2d 615, 620 (Pa. 1982); Azzarello v. Black Bros. Co., 391 A.2d 1020 (Pa. 1978); Berkebile v. Brantley Helicopter Corp., 337 A.2d 893, 897 (Pa. 1975).

Genuine issues of material fact created by conflicting testimony preclude summary judgment and must be decided by the trier of fact.  Penn Ctr. House, Inc. v. Hoffman, 553 A.2d 900, 904 (Pa. 1989); Borough of Nanty-Glo v. American Sur. Co., 163 A. 523, 524 (Pa. 1932).  “The determination of whether a warning is adequate and whether a product is ‘defective’ due to inadequate warnings is a question of law to be decided by the trial court judge.”  Weiner v. American Honda Motor Co., 718 A.2d 305, 310 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1998).  

In a failure-to-warn case under Pennsylvania law, the plaintiff has a rebuttable presumption that he or she would have heeded the warning had it been given—the so-called “heeding presumption.”  Coward v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 729 A.2d 614, 621-22 […]

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