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.
Q: What’s the catch?
A: There are plenty of exceptions to the new law. For example, it doesn’t apply to cases involving manufacturing flaws or defects, or in cases where the product has been taken off the market by a recall or federal action. Some of the provisions on sellers are vague, and it could be a while before courts provide guidance on applying those provisions.
Q: What’s the bottom line?
A: Under this new law, Oklahoma now recognizes that manufacturers are working hard to make safe products, and that innocent sellers should not have to shoulder litigation costs for defects with which they had nothing to do.
PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS WRITER