Monday, November 17, 2008
Important new case from Illinois Supreme Court on Products Liability
The Illinois Supreme Court recently decided Mikolajczyk v. Ford Motor Co. (available here), in which the court considered two questions: (1) whether a defendant is entitled to an instruction on the risk-utility test over the objection of a plaintiff whose chosen method of proof is consumer expectation and (2) if both consumer-expectation and risk-utility instructions are given and the tests yield inconsistent answers, which result prevails? The court held "that both the consumer-expectation test and the risk-utility test may be utilized in a strict liability design defect case to prove that the product is 'unreasonably dangerous,' and that "[w]hether an instruction is required on either test or both tests will depend on the issues raised in the pleadings and the evidence presented at trial, and if "both tests are employed, consumer expectation is to be treated as one factor in the multifactor risk-utility analysis." The court declined to adopt section 2(b) of the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products liability (1998) as the exclusive test for resolving design defect issues because section 2(b) would alter the "unreasonably dangerous" element in Illinois design defect cases by requiring the plaintiff to prove the existence of a feasible alternative. Whether to adopt a requirement of a reasonable alternative design has been a big debate since it was proposed as part of the process of adopting the Restatement 3d. It was not the majority view at the time and, to my knowledge, it still isn't. In the end, the Illinois Supreme Court adopted the view that a desing defect must be determined by examining a number of factors including an assessment of risks and benefits and consumer expectations.