Nebraska Law Review
To date, no jurisdiction has adopted the useful life defense as part of its common law. Perhaps the time has come to reconsider this position and accept the logical consequences of such a defensive concept. At some point, natural deterioration, rather than a defect in design, manufacturing, or marketing, is the cause of a plaintiff’s injury. Combining the useful life defense with the reasonable expectation theory removes the burden of uniformly determining when a given product is legally dead. The reasonable expectations doctrine places the responsibility for determining the useful life of a product where it belongs—in the hands of the trier of fact. Nothing could be fairer from the manufacturer’s perspective than a premise that limits liability to a period of time during which a product is viable, useful, and fit for its intended purpose.
Section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts provides a cause of action for injured plaintiffs that is arguably inequitable to defendant manufacturers. Courts must begin to consider that, like all things tangible, products eventually grow old and die, and that once this process has taken place, a manufacturer should not be held responsible for resulting injuries. Courts universally hold, when a product is dismantled or recycled, it is not being used in the manner intended. This unintended use becomes unforeseeable, and any resulting injury is not the responsibility of the manufacturer. Continuing to indefinitely hold a manufacturer liable for injuries arising from the use of a product, unreasonably extends the precepts that originally support section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts. Courts must recognize and accept that all products eventually lose their usefulness and become dead as bases for liability.
Charles E. Cantú, The Useful Life Defense: Embracing the Idea That All Products Eventually Grow Old and Die, 80 Neb. L. Rev. 1 (2001).