Major Win for Products Manufacturers on Safer, Alternative Design Requirement

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In a unanimous decision released last week, the Alabama Supreme Court delivered a significant victory for manufacturers defending products liability claims in Hosford v. BRK Brands, Inc. (click here to download the opinion). As in most jurisdictions, a plaintiff in a products case in Alabama must establish the existence of a safer, practical, alternative design. In Hosford, the Court ruled that the proposed alternative must be sufficiently similar to the allegedly defective product so as to be considered a true alternative rather than a different product altogether. Hosford involved an inexpensive, single-sensor smoke detector using only ionization technology. The plaintiffs’ evidence at trial only identified a more costly dual-sensor detector using both ionization and photoelectric technologies as a proposed alternative design. The Supreme Court held, as a matter of law, that the dual-sensor smoke alarm is a different product than the single-sensor alarm and therefore could not be used to satisfy the safer alternative design requirement. In so holding, the Court recognized the importance of tradeoffs between cost and design and acknowledged that a manufacturer is not required to incorporate all possible safety features. The Court reasoned that imposing liability for not including all available safety features could have the unintended effect of decreasing consumer safety by increasing products costs or eliminating whole categories of useful products. The Court held that the manufacturer was due judgment as a matter of law because plaintiffs’ proposed alternative was a different product altogether. In doing so, the Court established good precedent for product manufacturers in Alabama and elsewhere.

Bradley lawyers Mike McKibben and Scott Burnett Smith teamed with Bob Hayes of the Cozen O’Connor firm for the successful defense and appellate representation of the manufacturer in this case.