Should manufacturers be held to a higher standard than those which have been proven to be ineffective?
The following paper is an interesting read related to that topic. . .
“The Case for a ‘Strong’ Regulatory Compliance Defense”
Richard C. Ausness, University of Kentucky, College of Law, 1996, Law Faculty Publications
Here are some excerpts:
“The regulatory compliance defense is another concept that can limit tort liability. In its strong version, the regulatory compliance defense provides that a product is not defective if it meets applicable regulatory standards or requirements. However, very few jurisdictions recognize regulatory compliance as a complete defense to tort liability. Instead, most courts allow juries to take compliance with regulatory standards into account, but steadfastly refuse to treat federal safety standards as anything more than minimum standards. 12″ [p. 1212]
“The National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966 35 directs the Secretary of Transportation to promulgate safety requirements for automobiles and other motor vehicles.36 Each safety standard must protect the public against “unreasonable risk of accidents occurring because of the design, construction, or performance of motor vehicles and … unreasonable risk of death or injury in an accident.“”37 Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards currently govern safety glass, door strength and latch design, fuel system integrity, occupant protection, and numerous other aspects of motor vehicle safety. 38″[p.1215]
“Regulatory safety standards may be either descriptive or performance oriented. Descriptive or specification standards mandate the use of particular materials, processes, designs, or labeling.65 Performance standards describe the performance characteristics of a product but do not specify how these characteristics are to be achieved.66 Performance standards are thought superior to descriptive standards because they allow for flexibility without sacrificing the benefits of specificity.67 However, both descriptive standards and performance standards are more specific than tort liability rules.68″ [p. 1218]
” Consequently, a product manufacturer may be held civilly liable as a matter of law for injuries caused by its failure to comply with applicable safety standards.’ It should be noted, however, that some courts conclude that noncompliance merely creates a presumption of negligence.182 Courts treat compliance with government safety standards somewhat differently than they treat noncompliance with such standards. Section 288C of the Restatement (Second) of Torts provides that compliance with a legislative enactment or an administrative regulation does not preclude a finding of negligence in cases where a reasonable person would take additional precautions.‘ 183 Most states appear to follow the Restatement’s approach in negligence cases. Thus, compliance with safety regulations is generally considered to be some evidence of due care,184 but it is seldom conclusive. 185
B. Effect of Compliance with Federal Product Safety Standards Ordinarily, regulatory compliance is treated the same in product liability cases as it is in negligence cases. Although there are some exceptions, 186 most courts agree that federal safety regulations are relevant evidence in products liability cases.187 On the other hand, few courts are willing to give much weight to such statutes. Instead, most have concluded that compliance with federal safety standards is merely evidence that a product is not defective, effectively allowing juries to substitute their judgment for that of a regulatory agency.”‘ 188″ [pp.1240-1242]
” National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.-A number of courts have concluded that compliance with federal motor vehicle safety standards does not foreclose tort liability.2″ 1 Dawson v. Chrysler Corp. 202 is illustrative. In Dawson, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant’s automobile was designed defectively because it did not have a continuous steel frame.2 °3 Chrysler maintained that its design was adequate because it complied with applicable federal safety standards.20 4 The court, however, relied upon a provision of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which expressly preserved tort claims against automobile manufacturers.205 In the court’s view, this authorized tort liability even though manufacturers complied with motor vehicle safety standards.206″ [pp. 1243-44]
“Dorsey v. Honda Motor Co.207 involved a claim for punitive damages by the owner of a subcompact automobile who was injured when his vehicle collided with a larger car.208 The trial court concluded that compliance with federal motor vehicle standards precluded an award of punitive damages because it negated the element of recklessness as a matter of law. 209 The court of appeals observed, however, that the NTMVSA expressly preserved common-law tort claims. 210 The Dorsey court also relied on the Restatement (Second) of Torts to conclude that “compliance with regulatory standards. .. does not require a jury to find a defendant’s conduct reasonable.” 211 If compliance with a federal regulatory standard did not automatically cause defendant’s conduct to be considered reasonable, the court reasoned that it could be reckless, thereby justifying an award of punitive damages. 212″ [p.1244]
“Ordinarily, the best way to determine if a strong regulatory compliance defense should be adopted is to compare costs and benefits. If the benefits of a strong regulatory compliance defense exceed its social costs, the defense should be adopted. If the opposite is true, the regulatory compliance defense should be rejected. . . On the benefit side, a strong regulatory compliance defense will provide manufacturers with specific and uniform standards to follow. . . On the loss side, the lessening of tort liability would deprive manufacturers of some incentive to invest in product safety. Consequently, products would become more dangerous and product-related accidents would increase accordingly. . . ” [p. 1265]
(Note: Emphasis is mine.)