LBK Founder Discusses the Impact of Sullivan v. Werner Case on Products Liability Law


In a recent article in The Legal Intelligencer, LBK founder Jeffrey Laffey explored the ramifications of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Sullivan v. Werner decision. Laffey, who, along with attorney Stewart Ryan represented the plaintiffs in the case, explained that the Court has answered a major open question in products liability law by affirming that a manufacturer’s alleged compliance with governmental and industry standards is not admissible.

In 2014, the Court’s Tincher v. Omega decision outlined the risk-utility test, which can determine if a product is unreasonably dangerous and defective. This test examines whether a reasonable person would conclude that the probability of harm caused by the product outweighs the burden or cost of taking precautions. The decision has led some manufacturers to attempt to introduce evidence of compliance with government and industry standards.

In the Sullivan case, union carpenter Michael Sullivan suffered career-ending injuries when a platform of a scaffold collapsed, causing him to fall. Evidence established that the deck pins that help secure the platform rotate to a degree where the platform can become partially dislodged. Although Werner, the manufacturer, attempted to introduce evidence of compliance with standards set forth by an entity funded by the American Ladder Institute, this evidence was not admitted, and Sullivan was awarded $2.5 million.

Laffey highlights the implications of the case: “What the Sullivan decision does is sharpen the focus for plaintiffs and defense counsel alike when handling products liability cases. Rather than be distracted by side arguments…practitioners can hone on a very straight-forward question: was the product in question defectively designed?”

Read the full article here: Pa. High Court Cleared Up a Big Strict Products Liability Law Question in ‘Sullivan’ (subscription required)