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Law Notes Tort Law Notes

Products Liability Notes

Updated Products Liability Notes

Tort Law Notes

Tort Law

Approximately 1070 pages

Tort Law notes fully updated for recent exams at Oxford and Cambridge. These notes cover all the LLB tort law cases and so are perfect for anyone doing an LLB in the UK or a great supplement for those doing LLBs abroad, whether that be in Ireland, Hong Kong or Malaysia (University of London).

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Products liability, vicarious liability and non-delegable duties, and joint liability

Products Liability

C has suffered harm bc of a dangerously defective product 3 options:

  1. Sue the seller in contract (s14 Sale of Goods Act)

  2. Sue the manufacturer in negligence (manufacturer must have been at fault)

  3. s2 Consumer Protection Act 1987

Common Law

Persons Liable

Donoghue v Stevenson (1932) – Lord Atkin set out the ‘narrow rule’: “A manufacturer of products, which he sells in such a form as to show that he intends them to reach the ultimate consumer in the form in which they left him with no reasonable possibility of intermediate examination and with the knowledge that the absence of reasonable care in the preparation or putting up of the products will result in an injury to the consumer’s life or property, owes a duty to the consumer to take that reasonable step.”

There is no liability for damage caused by defective products in CL unless there is negligence. There is no product in respect of which there is no liability for negligence. The duty has been extended from manufacturers to repairers, fitters, erectors and assemblers. The duty extends to taking steps concerning dangers which are discovered only after the product has gone into circulation.

Andrews v Hopkinson (1957) – Although a distributor/supplier does not make the product, a duty to carry out an inspection of the product and take reasonable steps accordingly will arise, but only if in all the circumstances the supplier could reasonably be expected to carry out an examination.

Hurley v Dyke (1979) – A suitable warning of possible defects may be sufficient to discharge the DoC (old car was sold “as seen and with all its fault and without warranty” sufficient bc D had no knowledge of the specific defects but knew the car was generally dangerous).

Extension of subject matter

Liability has been extended to non-food/drink products. “Consumer” includes the ultimate user or anyone within physical proximity to the product (Brown v Cotterill (1934)). The duty of reasonable care extends to the product’s transport container or package (Barnes v Irwell Valley Water Board (1938)), plus its labels, directions or instructions (Watson v Buckley (1940)).

Burden of proof

BoP of proving negligence is on C, but C need not specify what D did wrong (i.e. where the manufacturing process went wrong). C need only establish that, on the balance of probabilities, the defect arose in the course of manufacture by D (almost strict liability). This may be by proving that nothing happened to the product post-leaving the factory that could have caused the defect (Mason v Williams & Williams Ltd (1955)).

Grant v Australian Knitting Mills Ltd (1936) – D cannot argue that it is possible that the product was interfered with post-leaving the factory – the mere possibility of interference does not negative D’s liability. There must be, though, sufficient evidence given by C that the defect existed when the article left the manufacturer’s hands and that it was not caused later.

Davie v New Merton Board Mills Ltd (1957) – The use of the article by C for a purpose materially different from that for which the maker designed it or which he might reasonably be taken to have contemplated will also defeat a claim, but use for a different but similar purpose does not – the question is one of fact and degree.

  • Good test: was C’s injury caused by the product’s defect or by C’s own misuse of it?

Intermediate Examination

Lord Atkin’s narrow rule in Donoghue v Stevenson only applies where there is “no reasonable possibility of intermediate examination” (this is not a requirement to show negligence, but one factor to be considered). Probability of intermediate examination will only exonerate D if it gives him reason to expect that it will reveal the defect and that this will result in the elimination of the defect or at least C being warned of it in such a way as to make him safe (McIlveen v Charlesworth Developments (1982)).

Nature of the loss

There is no liability for the defect itself – under Donoghue v Stevenson there is only liability for personal injury and property damage caused by the defective product. Financial loss caused by the failure of the product to fulfil its function can only be claimed under the Sale of Goods Act 1979. It would also be impractical for the law to impose liability for defects of quality and performance.

Murphy v Brentwood (1991) – Creating something in a defective condition is not damaging it; there is no decrease in the value/usefulness, just creating a product not as well as it could have been made. This is so even if, e.g. cracks in a house, appear due to defective plastering.

The law regarding complex structures/products was discussed in Murphy v Brentwood DC (1991).

  • It is clear that when a defective component in a complex product causes damage to the product itself, and the defective component is a replacement or added part, the manufacturer is liable for damage to the rest of the article (regardless of whether he was the manufacturer of the article in its original state).

  • When one part of a complex structure/product cause damage to another part of that complex structure/product, it may be possible to regard the defective part as having caused damage to “other property”. However, what counts as “other property” probably depends on how integral/central the defective part is to the whole product. For example, it is hard to argue that foundations which are defective and cause damage to the rest of the house have caused damage to “other property” – when a single builder builds a house from the foundations upwards he is creating a single, integrated unit. Conversely, where separate contractors install different parts of the structure, or the defective part is “ancillary” to the rest of the product (e.g. a car radio in a car), it may be possible to regard the defective part as “other property” to the rest of the complex product.

  • The case was...

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