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Adoption of the Risk-Utility Rule in Negligence Design Cases – Jablonski v. Ford Motor Co., 2011 Ill. 110096 (2011)

IDC Quarterly Vol. 23, No. 4 (23.4.28)

Summary: Historically, in Illinois, as well as other jurisdictions, the doctrine of strict liability in tort has been differentiated from cases in which the plaintiff contends that the product was negligently designed, manufactured or sold with inadequate warnings. Conceptually, the rationale behind strict liability is that a supplier’s exposure turns on the condition of the product at the time it is sold, as opposed to the quantum of care used in its design and/or manufacture. Thus, the so-called “risk/utility” doctrine applied solely to strict liability cases. In Jablonski v. Ford Motor Co., the Supreme Court vitiated most of the distinctions between product liability and negligence law, including the prohibition against using the risk/utility rule in negligent design cases.

The upshot of evolving legal principles in product liability cases is that there is very little difference between what a plaintiff must prove in order to recover on a strict liability, as opposed to a negligence theory.