Answer to MBE Question from December 20th
(B) is correct.
Issue: Whether the pilot can recover against the airplane dealer in products liability.
Rule: Strict products liability imposes responsibility for injuries from the defendant’s products, without proof of negligence, on manufacturers and sellers. A commercial supplier or merchant that sells any product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the consumer or to his property is subject to strict liability for physical harm thereby caused to anyone whose injury was foreseeable, including the ultimate consumer, or to his property. There must be a causal link, i.e. the defect must exist while the product was in the hands of the manufacturer. There must also be actual harm caused to the plaintiff or plaintiff’s property. Pure economic loss (i.e., the cost of the product itself) cannot be recovered.
Analysis: Here the airplane immediately began to have the burning smell after the pilot took it for its first flight. There is nothing in the facts to indicate that the pilot altered the plane in any way. Thus this defect must have existed at the time of purchase and the elements for strict liability are met: the dealer, a commercial supplier, sold a defective airplane to the pilot and the pilot was personally injured as a result of the defective plane. The airplane dealer is liable for the injuries the defective airplane caused the pilot.
(B) is correct because based on these facts, since the airplane was not altered since its purchase, the defect must have existed at the time the airplane was purchased thus invoking strict liability.
(A) is incorrect because this only addresses the present defective state of the airplane. However, a defect alone is not enough to recover in strict liability. To recover against a commercial supplier or merchant, it must also be shown that the defect existed at the time of purchase.
(C) is incorrect because the pilot did not have a duty to inspect the airplane; he had a right to rely on the expertise of the dealer and to presume that the dealer would not sell a defective product.
(D) is incorrect because contributory negligence is not a valid defense to strict liability (though assumption of risk is a defense to strict liability).