Florida Supreme Court Could Decide Important Products Liability Case in 2015

Florida_Supreme_Court_Building_2011The Florida Supreme Court may change the landscape of Florida products liability law in the upcoming year. The Court has the ability to broaden the test used by Florida courts to determine whether a defendant’s product is defective.

In the case of Aubin v. Union Carbide Corp.. the Court will determine whether to reinstate a multi-million dollar verdict awarded to compensate the plaintiff for his asbestos-related injuries. Although the case deals with asbestos-containing products, the effects of the Supreme Court’s decision could be far-reaching. The Court could choose to decide the case narrowly, on the specific facts surrounding Mr. Aubin’s injuries. Or it could make a broad ruling that would affect how many other types of products liability cases are tried in Florida.

The Court could shape Florida products liability law by establishing the test used to determine whether a product is defective. The plaintiff argues that the Court should adopt what is called the consumer expectations test, which simply states that a product has a design defect if it does not function as a reasonable consumer might expect. Plaintiffs’ attorneys contend that this test upholds the values of the traditional strict liability cause of action. The trial court allowed the case to proceed under this theory, but the intermediate appellate court reversed that decision.

The alternative is a test called the risk-utility test. The risk-utility test focuses on whether the utility of a product outweighs the risk of using it. Florida courts have established several factors to consider when applying the risk-utility test, including its utility to the public as a whole, the likelihood that it will cause injury, and whether there are safer alternative designs. Defense attorneys argue that this test is easier to apply because the law provides specific considerations.

Most lawyers think the consumer expectations test benefits injured consumers, whereas the risk-utility test is seen as pro-defendant. This is because under the risk-utility test, even if a defendant makes a dangerous product, the defendant might escape liability if the product’s usefulness is deemed to outweigh its danger. This can be true even if the product did not function at all as a reasonable consumer might expect.

Currently, Florida courts are split as to which test is appropriate. If the Supreme Court adopts the reasonable expectation test, it will reaffirm Florida’s long-standing strict liability jurisprudence, which will benefit injured consumers in the state. If the Court does not allow the consumer expectations test to stand as an independent method for proving a design defect and instead endorses the risk-utility test, litigating a products liability case might be more difficult.

No matter the outcome of the Aubin case, you still have rights if you were hurt by a defective product in Florida. The products liability attorneys of Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano have a long history of helping injured consumers in Fort Myers, Naples, and throughout Southwest Florida. To schedule a free case evaluation, call (800) 238-7442 or complete our online contact form.

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