Hastings International and Comparative Law Review


John G. Culhane


During the past several decades, product liability law has sustained dramatic growth in the United States, but has noticeably lagged in the European Union. Against these quite different backdrops both American and European product liability initiatives have recently arisen. In the United States, the Model Uniform Product Liability Act (MUPLA) has served as a template for the enactment of individual state legislation, while the nations of the European Union have, through their own legislative processes, been implementing the Union's Product Liability Directive (the Directive).

This Article begins by undertaking a historical and analytical study of American and European product law before the enactments of both MUPLA and the Directive. Thus, it embeds these important documents within the specific contexts of their creation, thereby allowing a fully informed comparison. This groundwork laid, the Article then analyzes their treatment of both the substantive and procedural rules of product defect law. This examination may help to predict the course of product liability adjudication, but the larger aim is to make two central points. First, the Directive's underlying philosophy of protecting the consumer's reasonable expectation is more consonant with the requirements of justice than MUPLA's emphasis on balancing a product's risks against its utility, since the latter approach allows the sacrifice of individual safety and autonomy. Second, procedural reform can bring order to the untidy product litigation field without unfairly treating injured parties. Substantive rules, on the other hand, can have the undesirable effect of depriving courts of the flexibility needed for a just resolution of such claims.

With the analysis of both MUPLA and the Directive in place, the Article then ranges over a series of different cases, showing by example how these two initiatives would likely work in practice, and pointing out areas where their commands and underlying philosophies might compromise just resolution of claims.