Frank, that particular genie originated in (guess where?) California. It's called Products Liability, a/k/a Strict Liability or Liability Without Fault. Its logical foundation is that, given the complexity of modern machines (this developed in the 1950s), injuries are inevitable; and it is sound social policy to place liability for the damages suffered in these inevitable accidents on the manufacturer of the machine because he is the one that profits from the sale of the machine, and he is best placed to assure that the device is made as safe as possible. As it became widespread, the doctrine was generally limited to items which were sold in a defective and/or unreasonably dangerous condition, and in some cases a prominent warning of a particular danger could insulate the manufacturer from liability.
In order to maintain the object of the risk allocation of the doctrine, it was no defense that the item met or exceeded industry standards, or that it was as safe as the state of the art permitted at the time. Nor was it a defense that the defendant misused the machine for a purpose for which it was not designed, or that the injured party was negligent in using the product. Warnings, to avoid liability, had to be clear, prominent and specific.
So, how do we determine if a device is unreasonably dangerous or defective? This requires expert testimony, and many engineers and others make a decent living testifying that the thing at issue was one or the other (or both). There is, of course, expert testimony to the contrary (with more experts earning lesser fees, because they typically are employees of the manufacturer), and a good deal of medical expert testimony back and forth about the severity of the plaintiff's injuries. Then, unless the evidence is undisputed, the matter is handed off to the jury.
The Jury is made up of citizens, drawn at random from the court's jurisdiction. They listen to the evidence, and the judge instructs them on the law that is applicable to the case presented to them. They go back into a jury room and discuss the evidence . They are not supposed to consider factual matters not in evidence (which is one reason why medical professionals rarely get to sit on juries considering personal injury cases). Once all jurors are in agreement, they return to the courtroom and announce their determination. THE JURY'S RULING ON THE FACTS IS FINAL, SO LONG AS IT IS SUPPORTED BY EVIDENCE! If the loser tries to get another trial to present additional evidence, he must first satisfactorily explain why the evidence wasn't presented in the first trial -- and must show that had the jury been given this evidence, the outcome would have been different. It is not enough that you have twenty more people prepared to give the same testimony that one person gave at the trial, since the Jury already considered that evidence. If a judge considers the jury's verdict wrong, he can grant a new trial, or he can suggest that the award be adjusted either up or down as an alternative to a new trial. And while I am convinced that most jurors and juries try their best to do what they are supposed to do, there is always the sympathy factor!
One judge told of a case where the jury, after some deliberation, sent a message that they had a question for the court. After the parties and counsel were assembled, the judge brought the jury in and asked the foreman for the question.
"Your honor," the foreman said, "we want to know if there is any way we can give these plaintiffs something without finding the defendant negligent?"
"Well, yes, there is," said the judge. "But first, I take it from your question that you have found that the defendant was not negligent. Is that correct?"
"Yes, your honor." the foreman replied.
"Is that the verdict of each of you jurors?" asked the judge. "If it is, raise your hands."
All of the jurors raised their hands.
"Very well," said the judge, "judgement for the defendant, costs to be taxed to the plaintiffs. And now, Mr. Foreman, you may pass the hat on behalf of the plaintiffs among the members of the jury."
Regretably, most jurys are not so straightforward when the sympathy factor comes into play. And I suspect that the effort to prevent such injuries on the part of manufacturers is partly to blame. "Everybody Knows" that people play CYA with these warnings, and that they don't really indicate a danger. While I was at Fort Polk, I had a constant problem with flying insects at my trailer -- so I went to the commissary and bought a bottle of insecticide. It had one of those finger-pump sprayers on it, and I used it liberally. And it WORKED! I would spray a wasp as it flew by, and ten minutes later I would find a dead wasp! It did the same for flies, too! I loved it. One day, just for the halibut, I sat down and read the warning label. It was pretty much standard -- do not use this within 500 feet of any living thing, etc. -- but I then stumbled upon three little words which got my undivided attention! There, printed on the bottle, was the statement, "Atropine is antidotal".
[For those not familiar with the term, the Army trains (or used to, and I suspect still does train) its personnel on the use of Atropine to counteract the effects of nerve gas. We were cautioned, however, not to use it unless we had been attacked by a nerve agent, because without the nerve agent to balance its effects, the atoprine would kill you!]
I continued to use the insecticide, but I was much more miserly with it after that.
Edited by IMike, 11 July 2012 - 12:13 PM.