Disharmony between state and federal courts in Pennsylvania has once again sounded, with a federal judge in the Western District applying the Restatement (Third) of Torts in a products liability case.
The ruling comes just a few weeks after a district court judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania said the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had indicated that the Restatement (Second) of Torts was still the guiding force in the state on products liability law.
In a case that highlights the importance of adopting the new Restatement , U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak of the Western District of Pennsylvania followed the dictate from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in the absence of direct instruction from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
He noted that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declined to adopt the new Restatement at its most recent opportunity to do so, its March opinion in Beard v. Johnson and Johnson, which means that the Third Circuit’s direction to apply it, given in that court’s 2011 opinion in Covell v. Bell Sports , still holds.
“Given that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Beard did not affirmatively disavow the premise of the Covell decision, along with the principle that the Third Circuit’s predictions regarding Pennsylvania state law are binding on this court absent a decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court expressly to the contrary, this court must and will apply the Third Circuit’s Covell prediction and rely upon Sections 1 and 2 of the Restatement (Third) of Torts here,” Hornak said in his 49-page opinion in Lynn v. Yamaha Golf-Car Co .
In a case stemming from an accident involving two teenage girls who were riding in a Yamaha golf cart on residential roads in their neighborhood, Yamaha’s primary defense was that their application of the cart was not an “intended use,” nor was the young driver an “intended user.”
Those arguments might carry weight under the Restatement (Second) , Hornak said. However, Hornak said, under the Restatement (Third) , “the legal principles of ‘intended use’ and ‘intended user’ have little bearing.”
The Restatement (Third) employs the concept of “reasonable foreseeability,” which covers a much broader spectrum of circumstances for which a manufacturer can be held responsible for harm, he said.
The new Restatement “does not restrict recovery to only users or consumers; rather, it allows recovery for any person harmed by a defective product,” Hornak said.
The defendant’s argument that it is not responsible for injury to an “unintended user” of its product or for harm from an “unintended use” of its product “presents an example of what is perhaps one of the fundamental jurisprudential bases supporting the adoption of Sections 1 and 2 of the Restatement (Third) of Torts ,” Hornak said.
He added: “The highly cabined nature of the intended use and intended user doctrines is at odds with the reality of manufacturers, users and courts necessarily taking into account, in their usual and normal daily work, the reasonably foreseeable uses of a product or procedure, and the risks flowing from such uses of manufactured products.”
Hornak said that both state and federal courts in Pennsylvania, even before the Third Circuit’s 2009 opinion in Berrier v. Simplicity Manufacturing , which first predicted the state court’s adoption of the Restatement (Third) , had allowed apparently unintended users to recover for claims and that there will often be no single intended use of a product nor a limited group of intended users.
“As our court of appeals noted in Berrier , the concept of reasonable foreseeability as to likely actual users is a far more accurate measuring stick for when liability may properly attach for harm caused by a defective product,” Hornak said.
Last month, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III of the Middle District of Pennsylvania held the opposite, finding that the state Supreme Court’s decision not to adopt the new Restatement spoke strongly enough to hold sway.
“We believe that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, by again declining to take advantage of the opportunity to adopt the Restatement (Third) , has indicated that the Restatement (Second) remains the law in Pennsylvania,” Jones held in Sikkelee v. Precision Airmotive . “Accordingly, we will apply the dictates of the Restatement (Second) in resolving the strict products liability questions in the action.”
Hornak recognized in a footnote that several federal courts in Pennsylvania had found that the Supreme Court had spoken with authority on the matter, like Jones last month.
However, Hornak said, “this court respectfully disagrees, and concludes that in the face of the various holdings and reasoning of our state’s Supreme Court in its most recent series of strict liability cases, including in Beard , the level of clarity and persuasion from that court that would require this court to sidestep Covell and Berrier has not arrived.”
Neither Jason Schiffman, of Schiffman & Wojdowski in Pittsburgh, who represented the Lynn family as plaintiffs, nor Clem Trischler, of Pietragallo, Gordon, Alfano, Bosick & Raspanti in Pittsburgh, who defended Yamaha, could be reached for comment.
Saranac Hale Spencer can be contacted at 215-557-2449 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @SSpencerTLI.
(Copies of the 49-page opinion in Lynn v. Yamaha Golf-Car Co. , PICS No. 12-1540, are available from The Legal Intelligencer . Please call the Pennsylvania Instant Case Service at 800-276-PICS to order or for information.) •