Examination of the Product Does Not Stop a Pennsylvania Court From Applying the Malfunction Theory

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This theory allows a plaintiff to circumstantially prove that a product is defective by showing evidence of a malfunction and eliminating abnormal use or reasonable, secondary causes for the malfunction.

June 28, 2021
Gus Sara - The Subrogation Strategist

Pennsylvania recognizes the malfunction theory in product liability cases. This theory allows a plaintiff to circumstantially prove that a product is defective by showing evidence of a malfunction and eliminating abnormal use or reasonable, secondary causes for the malfunction. The malfunction theory is available to plaintiffs as an alternative to proving a traditional strict product liability case in those circumstances where direct evidence of a product defect is not found. In Pa. Nat’l Mut. Cas. Ins. Co. v. Sam’s East, Inc., 727 MDA 2020, 2021 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 752, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania (Superior Court) considered whether the plaintiffs could avail themselves to the malfunction theory if the plaintiffs’ expert was able to examine the product.

The Sam’s East, Inc. case arose from a February 2015 fire at the residence of Gerald and Michelle Thompson (the Thompsons). The fire caused injuries to the Thompsons, as well as significant damage to their residence. Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Company (Insurer) provided homeowners insurance coverage for the property and made payments to the Thompsons as a result of the fire. Insurer retained a fire investigator to investigate the origin and cause of the fire. The fire investigator determined that the fire originated at an electric space heater that was purchased from defendant Sam’s East, Inc. (Sam’s East) in December 2011. Insurer and the Thompsons filed a lawsuit against Sam’s East in early 2017 for their respective damages.

Mr. Sara may be contacted at sarag@whiteandwilliams.com



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