Q&A with Jason McVicker
State products liability law shields manufacturers, sellers
Q: On May 2, Gov. Fallin signed HB 3365 into law. What inspired this new products liability law?
A: Manufacturers and sellers deal with many federal regulations every day. Unfortunately, this hard work doesn’t count for much when a plaintiff files a lawsuit. In recent years, both federal and state courts have found that compliance with federal regulations does not shield a manufacturer or seller from product liability lawsuits. Starting in November, Oklahoma will join states like Texas and Michigan to reverse this trend.
Q: How does the new law help manufacturers and sellers in Oklahoma?
A: In cases involving an alleged defect in the formulation, labeling or design of a product, the manufacturer or seller of the product is presumed to be free from liability if they can show compliance with federal safety standards or pre-market licensing requirements. A plaintiff can counter this presumption only by showing that the federal regulations were inadequate, or that the manufacturer engaged in some kind of fraud during the regulatory process. This should discourage certain kinds of lawsuits. The law also adds protections for sellers, including retailers. Before, simply selling a defective product could expose a company to lawsuits. Now, sellers only can be liable if they had a hand in making or modifying the product, or in other situations involving fault or fairness to the plaintiff. The new law even limits preliminary discovery for sellers, which should help keep defense costs down.