Now over 25 years old, Brown v. Superior Court established a significant precedent regarding medical products liability, and products liability generally. In addition to its specific holdings, Brown has been credited with articulating the three separate theories of products liability—manufacturing defect, design defect, and failure to warn—at a time when these were often lumped into a single claim of strict products liability. The court in Brown unanimously held that:
1) Strict products liability for defect design does not apply to prescription drugs,
2) Strict liability for failure to warn in prescription drug cases is limited to information that was reasonably scientifically known or knowable at the time of distribution, and
3) The market share theory applied in Sindell v. Abbott Laboratories does not apply to breach of warranty or fraud claims and a defendant is only liable for an apportionment equal to its then market share of the subject product.
In the time since Brown, its blanket restriction on design defect claims, which remains a minority rule, has been expanded in California to all implanted medical devices, such as IUDs, breast implants and artificial joints. Attempts to expand it further to selected non-prescription medical products have so far been unsuccessful, although on a case-by-case basis. Conversely, its ruling on warnings follows the national majority rule and has been applied to products claims generally. The market share theory has not seen wide application, presumably in part because of the restrictions imposed by Brown. For more details regarding the history and legacy of Brown, please see my article in the September 2014 issue of Los Angeles Lawyer, which can be found here.
Copyright 2014 Los Angeles Lawyer. Reprinted with permission.