Plaintiffs’ Burden of Proof in Florida Defective Design Claims

The Florida Supreme Court recently decided to reinstate a $6.6 million jury verdict in Union Carbide v. Aubin, an asbestos case, while clarifying Florida law with respect to product liability and defective product claims.

The court’s decision re-emphasized Florida law with respect to the “consumer expectation test,” which was established in 1976 in the case of West v. Caterpillar and which continued in 2006’s McConnell v. Union Carbide Corp. Under this decision, plaintiffs will no longer need to propose reasonable alternative designs via a “risk utility test” in order for their case to be successful. While this test has previously imposed a higher burden on plaintiffs attempting to prove design defects, the October 29th’s 5-2 ruling in the case of Union Carbide v. Aubin has deemed them unnecessary. The decision was an overall win for consumers. Plaintiffs in defective design cases will once again be able to prevail by proving the manufacturer made a defective and unreasonably dangerous product which ultimately caused harm to the consumer.

According to Kelley/Uustal Attorney Eric Rosen, this decision has effectively returned the status quo in Florida to the “consumer expectations test” after confusion following the Third District’s conflicting decision.

Traditionally in Florida, the test you use is “The product is unreasonably dangerous because it failed to perform as the consumer expects. It focuses on the manufacturer’s conduct and emphasizes the crucial role Manufacturers play in the expectations of consumers,” said Rosen.

The Supreme Court’s decision was based on the idea that manufacturers should be held responsible for compensating consumers who have suffered injury from unreasonably dangerous products.

Rosen notes that although the alternative design defense is still available to manufacturers, the burden to prove an alternative design no longer rests on the plaintiff. In other words, the manufacturer is the expert of their product, not the consumer. Plaintiffs may still propose a better design, but it will not be a requirement to prove their case.

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