Friday, May 29, 2009

Drilling Down: "Defective and Unreasonably Dangerous Condition"

By Brian A. Comer

In any South Carolina products liability action (whether brought in strict liability, negligence, and/or breach of warranty), a plaintiff must prove that the injury occurred because the product was in a "defective condition, unreasonably dangerous to the user." Rife v. Hitachi Constr. Mach. Co., 363 S.C. 209, 215, 609 S.E.2d 565, 568 (Ct. App. 2005).

Two tests have evolved in South Carolina to determine whether a product is in a "defective condition, unreasonably dangerous to the user," and the South Carolina Court of Appeals did a good job of articulating them in its preeminent case, Bragg v. Hi-Ranger, Inc., 319 S.C. 531, 462 S.E.2d 321 (Ct. App. 1995). The court stated as follows:

The first test is whether the product is unreasonably dangerous to the ordinary consumer or user given the conditions and circumstances that foreseeably attend the use of the product. Under the second test, a product is unreasonably dangerous and defective if the danger associated with the use of the product outweighs the utility of the product. . . . [T]he mere fact that a product malfunctions does not demonstrate the manufacturer's negligence nor does it establish that the product was defective. Rather, "[i]n the final analysis, we have another of the law's balancing acts and numerous factors must be considered, including the usefulness and desirability of the product, the cost involved for added safety, the likelihood and potential seriousness of injury, and the obviousness of danger." Thus, in South Carolina we balance the utility of the risk inherent in the design of the product with the magnitude of the risk to determine the reasonableness of the manufacturer's action in designing the product. This “balancing act” is also relevant to the determination that the product, as designed, is unreasonably dangerous in its failure to conform to the ordinary user's expectations.
Bragg, 319 S.C. at 543-44, 462 S.E.2d at 328 (citations omitted) (emphasis added).
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