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The New Product Liability Paradigm in Pennsylvania

11/24/2014

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court this past week dramatically altered the landscape of product liability litigation in Pennsylvania. In Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., No. 17 MAP 2013 (Pa. November 19, 2014), the Court overruled long-standing precedent that stringently segregated negligence concepts from strict liability claims, and finally settled the question of whether Pennsylvania would move to the Third Restatement. 

When lightning struck near the Tinchers’ home, steel tubing carrying natural gas to a fireplace was punctured, igniting the gas and causing a fire that resulted in significant damage to the Tinchers’ home. The Tinchers sued Omega Flex, the manufacturer of the tubing, on a “design defect” theory and experts rendered differing opinions on the cause of the fire and whether the tubing was defective. Omega Flex argued for application of the Third Restatement. However, the trial court instructed the jury based on the Second Restatement and principles enunciated in Azzarello. The jury returned a verdict in the Tinchers’ favor, and Omega Flex appealed.

After the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the judgment in Plaintiffs’ favor, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania granted Omega Flex’s petition for allowance of appeal. After exhaustively outlining the development of current law, and some of the problems that have developed under the current paradigm, the Court rendered three notable rulings: (1) it overruled Azzarello; (2) it declined to adopt the Third Restatement; and (3) it provided new guidance for strict liability claims in Pennsylvania going forward.

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