Products Liability Based Upon Violation of Statutory Standards

Regulatory enactments controlling production and distribution can give rise in several different ways to civil liability on behalf of persons injured by non-conforming merchandise. For instance, if a statute codifies existing common-law rules of negligence, its effect is merely to place the weight of legislative authority behind ordinary negligence principles. Since an injured party’s recovery under such a provision still depends largely upon his proving in the traditional manner that a defendant failed to exercise due care, this kind of statute merits no further discussion. On the other hand, if particular legislation expressly states that a violator may be subjected to a civil action for damages caused by an injury resulting from his infraction, absolute civil liability may be said to flow directly from a breach of the statute. In order to recover, a victim need prove only the occurrence of the violation, the causal relation between it and his injury, and the amount of his damages. On balance, however, the most common form of civil liability based upon statutory infringement arises when a penal statute is held to provide a standard of care, the breach of which is not only a crime, but also, because of the willingness of courts to treat an infraction of the criminal law as a ground for civil liability, negligence per se, or at least some evidence of negligence. Furthermore, there are a few regulatory enactments, such as the Federal Trade Commission Act, which, although not penal, can be said to establish standards of care and can therefore be treated like penal statutes, so as to provide the bases of recovery for persons injured because of violations of the statutes. The following discussion is primarily concerned with this type of civil liability arising from penal legislation or its equivalent through the process of judicial implication.