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Recent California Supreme Court Ruling Allows Evidence of Industry Best Practices to be Used in a Strict Products Liability Claim

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

We purchase products expecting that they have been designed and made correctly. Unfortunately, sometimes companies will fail to make or design a product safely. When this happens, consumers get hurt.

A recent California Supreme Court opinion may make it easier for injured consumers to hold manufacturers responsible for product defects. In products liability cases, manufacturers are held strictly liable if their product is defectively designed and injures someone because of that defective design. Whether or not injured parties can introduce evidence of industry best practices adhered to by other manufacturers who produce similar products has been a subject of debate. However, in Kim v. Toyota Motor Corp, the California Supreme Court said that this kind of information can be admitted for limited purposes in personal injury cases.

In Kim, the plaintiff and his wife brought a strict products liability suit against Toyota alleging that the Toyota pickup truck Kim was driving when he was injured was defective because it did not include a vehicle stability control device as part of its standard equipment. Kim argued that if this had been included in the vehicle it would have prevented his accident, that trucks and SUVs both have similar traction control problems, and that the company included vehicle stability control for its SUVs. However, during trial Toyota admitted evidence that no vehicle manufacturer at the time included vehicle stability control as part of its standard equipment in pickup trucks. The jury found for Toyota, and Kim appealed, arguing that the evidence Toyota admitted was not relevant. The appeals court upheld the verdict, and the case went to the California Supreme Court.

Some appellate court decisions in California had previously held the this kind of industry custom and practice evidence is always irrelevant and inadmissible in strict product liability cases. However, others had held that this kind of evidence can be relevant when a jury is, as in the Kim case, instructed to use a risk-benefits test to determine whether a manufacturer could and should have modified its design to avoid the injury at issue. In Kim, the California Supreme Court said that for a risk-benefits analysis, evidence of industry customs and practices regarding a Toyota’s competitors’ failure to include vehicle safety control in their trucks was relevant and admissible. Ultimately, they upheld the verdict for Toyota.

While this case was a verdict for the manufacturer and not the injured plaintiff, this holding has the potential to help many injured plaintiffs. If a plaintiff can present evidence showing that it is industry custom and best practice to fix or otherwise account for a product trait that injured the plaintiff, as part of a risk-benefit analysis, a California court will now see that evidence as relevant and admissible.

Of course, you need a skilled attorney to make this argument for you. At J&Y Law, we have represented numerous personal injury plaintiffs injured by defective products, and are skilled at providing aggressive litigation designed to secure the most compensation possible for our clients. We stay up-to-date on all developments in products liability law and use our combination of knowledge and experience to get justice for victims. Contact us today to learn more.


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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.