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LEGAL UPDATE: Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirms District Court decision in products liability lawsuit

July 15, 2011 – This week, The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a District Court decision in the case of Covell v. Bell Sports, Inc. The issue on appeal related specifically to evidence involving industry standards. The case was a products liability action arising from an alleged defect in the defendant’s (Bell Sports) bicycle helmets.

The Third Circuit upheld the judgment of the District Court in favor of defendant, ruling that the lower Court properly admitted expert testimony and correctly charged the jury pursuant to sections 1 and 2 of the Third Restatement of Torts rather than section 402A of the Second Restatement of Torts.

According to the Third Circuit Court’s decision, “Section 402A makes sellers liable for harm caused to consumers by unreasonably dangerous products, even if the seller exercised reasonable care. Section 402A thus creates a strict liability regime by insulating products liability cases from negligence concepts . . .

The American Law Institute responded to the core conflict in section 402A when it published the Restatement (Third) of Torts. Sections 1 and 2 of the Restatement (Third) of Torts abandon entirely the negligence-versus-strict-liability distinction that has caused so much trouble in Pennsylvania . . .

Section 1 thus makes sellers liable only for the sale of products that are ‘defective,’ and section 2 provides that a product may qualify as ‘defective’ if it meets one of three sets of criteria . . .

Applying this standard, we conclude that evidence of Bell’s compliance with the CPSC (United States Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Safety Standard for bicycle helmets) Standard was relevant to the jury’s inquiry because it went to at least two facts of consequence under section 2 of the Restatement (Third) of Torts, section 2. First, the CPSC Standard sets forth detailed rules for impact resistance and testing, and for labels and warning—both on the helmet and its sales packaging . . . Second, evidence that Bell complied with the CPSC Standard makes it ‘less probable,’ Rule 401, that ‘the foreseeable risks of harm posed by the product could have been reduced or avoided by the provision of reasonable instructions or warnings’ . . .

Our conclusion in this respect—i.e., that industry standards and government regulations are relevant to facts of consequence in this case—is also in line with the Commentary to section 2 of the Restatement (Third) of Torts.”

Please click here to review the entire decision.