Dateline: May, 2008, Issue 4

What responsibility do jurors a priori assign to manufacturers and users for product injuries?

Jurors come to court with beliefs about the allocation of responsibility for product injuries. These a priori beliefs anchor jurors' judgments in product liability cases.

Laughery and colleagues (1995) report jurors' a priori allocation of responsibility for injuries involving consumer products. Manufacturers are assigned the most responsibility (50%), users the next most responsibility (30%), and retailers the least responsibility (20%). Users are assigned greater responsibility in accidents involving more hazardous products, and for products where the hazards are more open and obvious.

Lovvoll and colleagues (1996) report jurors' a priori allocation of responsibility for injuries involving products used in work settings. Manufacturers are assigned the most responsibility (41%), employees (26%) and employers (22%) the next most responsibility, and distributors (11%) the least responsibility. As with consumer products, the more open and obvious the hazard, the more responsibility is assigned to the user, and the less responsibility is assigned to the manufacturer.

Laughery and colleagues (1998) report jurors' a priori allocation of responsibility for injuries involving particular products. Manufacturers are assigned higher than average responsibility for injuries related to the use of chemicals (e.g., fertilizer, pesticide, ibuprofen, erythromycin, Nyquil, carpet cleaner, suntan lotion), infant cradles and power saws. Manufacturers are assigned lower than average responsibility for injuries related to the use of gas grills, axes, gas cans, hair spray, diving boards, trampolines, and tires.

Jurors typically come to trial believing product manufacturers are 1.5 to 2 times as responsible as users for injuries involving products.

Source Laughery, K.R., Lovvoll, D. R., & Wogalter, M.S. (1995). Allocation of responsibility for product safety. In Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 39th Annual Meeting (pp. 435-439). Santa Monica, CA: Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

Source Responsibility for safety in the work environment. In Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomic Society 40th Annual Meeting (pp. 814-817). Santa Monica, CA: Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.

Source Laughery, K. R., Laughery, B. R., Lovvoll, D. R., & Wogalter, M. S. (1998). Effects of warnings on responsibility allocation. Psychology & Marketing, 15, pp. 657-706.