Strict products liability cases have been the subject of much fluctuation in the Pennsylvania courts over the last few years. Utilizing hope created by the courts in recent strict liability cases, defendants have tried to revive defenses based on meeting industry standards and the plaintiff’s contributory negligence. Recently, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania tempered that hope with limitations of how far strict liability defenses can extend.
In Sullivan v. Werner Co., No. 3086 EDA 2019, 2021 Pa. Super. LEXIS 210, an appellate panel of the Superior Court reviewed the lower court’s decision to exclude evidence of industry standards and of the plaintiff’s negligence in a trial that resulted in a $2.5 million verdict for the plaintiff. Upholding the decision of the lower court, the court found that the proffered evidence was within the discretion of the court to exclude.
In Sullivan, Michael Sullivan (Sullivan) was working as a union carpenter at a renovation project for a local school. He and his apprentice were installing exterior sheathing to the outdoor walls. In order to install the sheathing, Sullivan had to use a scaffold. He put together a new SRS-72 scaffold manufactured by Werner Company (Werner) that his foreman bought at Lowe’s Companies, Inc. (Lowe’s) and used the scaffold during the course of his work. While on the scaffold, Sullivan fell through and crashed to the ground. He suffered permanent injuries as a result of the incident.