Branham v. Ford Motor Co. Case Study Questions – Risk-Utility Test vs Consumer Expectations Test

Please reread the case of Branham v. Ford Motor Co. on Page 304, answer the following questions, and submit by selecting the Submit Assignment button.

1. Since the injured plaintiff was not wearing a seatbelt, why is Ford being sued for failing to test the seatbelt sleeve?

In the case of Branham v. Ford Motor Co., the Plaintiff brought the case against Hale, the driver, and Ford because the company failed to test the seat-belt sleeve, even though he did not “seriously pursue the claim against Hale” (Reed, Pagnattaro, Cahoy, Shedd & Morehead, 2012). The case against Ford was based on “two product liability claims: one for not testing the seat belt and the other a design defect claim related to the vehicles tendency to rollover” (Reed, Pagnattaro, Cahoy, Shedd & Morehead, 2012).

2. It is often said that product liability causes of action, especially negligence and strict liability, are coming together or merging. Discuss this idea in light of the South Carolina Supreme Court’s decision.

A Plaintiff can bring a liability claim for a product based on negligence, strict liability in tort, or breach of warranty. An injury may give credit to claims that can be established under the principles of negligence or strict liability. In a product liability claim, the plaintiff must prove the way they were injured by the product. Ina negligence claim, the “plaintiff bears the additional burden of demonstrating thedefendant failed to exercise due care.” (Reed, Pagnattaro, Cahoy, Shedd & Morehead, 2012). The Plaintiff pursued a case against Ford due to the company failing to test the seat belt sleeve. This case was based on “ two different liability claims: one for not testing the seat belt and the other a design defect claim related to the vehicles tendency to roll over” (Reed, Pagnattaro, Cahoy, Shedd & Morehead, 2012).

3. Is the consumer expectations test or the risk utility test more favorable to manufacturers? Explain.

A consumer expectation test is used in strict product liability lawsuits to establish whether a product has a manufacturing defect.

Risk-utility test is used in a strict product liability lawsuit to consider whether the risks of a product’s design outweigh the functionality of the product.

In Branham v. Ford Motors Co., the risk utility test is more favorable to the manufacturer. The consumer expectations test is difficult to predict from a manufacturer’s perspective because it is vague (Tracy 2010). Under the risk utility test, “a product is unreasonably dangerous and defective if the danger associated with the use of the product outweighs the utility of the product” (Reed, Pagnattaro, Cahoy, Shedd & Morehead, 2012). The consumer expectations test is used to determine whether the product is negligently manufactured or whether a warning on the product is defective. The courts noted that “the consumer expectations test was best suited for manufacturing defect cases.” However, the test is not appropriate for design defects.

4. Can Branham still win this case? Explain.

Yes, Branham could still win the case, but he cannot base it solely on strict liability. Even though he had established a suit against Hale in the beginning, Branham would have a higher percentage of winning against Hale (Reed, et al., 2012). If it were not for Hale’s negligence, the accident would not have occurred. Since the plaintiff was not wearing a seat belt, he would not be able to prove the design of the seat belt caused him injuries. He would be able to prove the design issue in regards to the rollover rate of the vehicle.

According to Nathaniel Cade, “an average juror usually cannot understand that just because a vehicle rolled over that it is not necessarily defective.” In the retrial, they should proceed under the risk utility test instead of the consumer expectation test (Reed, Pagnattaro, Cahoy, Shedd & Morehead, 2012) because at any accident cases, the safety of the vehicles will always come to question. In Branham v. Ford Motor Co., the “court leaves open the evidentiary question and does not address what standard or level of evidence is required to establish that a manufacture breached its duty.

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