Strict liability for product defects : the impact of the new regime
This thesis seeks to analyse the central features of the new scheme of strict liability for loss caused by product defects which was introduced by Part 1 of the Consumer Protection Act 1987. The features to be examined are: the meaning of 'defect'; the meaning of 'product' and the chain of liability; the role of warnings; recoverable and non-recoverable loss; the development risks defence; other defences and prescription and limitation. The aim of the thesis is to assess the impact of these new rules, against the background of the various proposals for reform which had been mooted and in the light of the considerable American experience of product liability law. Following upon an introduction to the new regime, each of the above elements will be analysed. There will be a brief consideration of the pre-existing legal position, and a discussion of the leading proposals for change. This is then followed by an examination of the appropriate provisions in the new legislation and then by an analysis of the American experience. Where necessary, this structure is not adhered to with excessive rigidity. Policy considerations affecting the working of the new rules are ventilated, and each chapter concludes with critical comments on the matter examined. It will be argued that the new concepts which comprise the scheme of strict liability are attended by varying degrees of uncertainty, which can only fully be resolved by litigation at the appellate level. Other areas, both of the legislation and of the common law, are, it will be suggested, profoundly unimaginative. It will be contended that these problems may have been tolerable had the balanced approach initially suggested by the reformers been accepted. The disruption of that balance, by the inclusion of the development risks defence, raises serious doubts as to the value of the legislation. The game, it will be concluded, may well not have been worth the candle.