Crashworthiness cases often involve the following issue: Should any wrongdoing by the plaintiff in causing the initial collision reduce or bar the plaintiff’s recovery for defective crashworthiness? Jurisdictions disagree on the answer to this issue. This disagreement results in large part from differing positions on two questions. First, should products liability law use duty rules to impose liability in a way that ensures efficient accident cost reduction or should it seek fairness through relatively unstructured jury allocations of liability based on fault? Second, in addressing the first issue, should for-profit corporations be viewed as: (1) “tools” to achieve human goals like efficient reduction of accident costs or (2) “persons” entitled to fair treatment in the same way as humans.
Relying on an analysis of doctrine, history, and policy, this Article argues (1) that for-profit corporations are tools, not persons with moral rights, and (2) because these corporations are not “moral persons”, the concern for efficient reduction of accident costs by internalizing the cost of injuries from product defects to corporations should prevail over a concern for “fairness” to these corporations in allocating accident costs. Therefore, because reducing manufacturers’ liability for crashworthiness also reduces the efficient internalization to manufacturers of the cost of their failure to provide cost-effective safety, the plaintiff’s role in causing the initial accident should be irrelevant to plaintiff’s claim for defective crashworthiness. This concern for internalization also supports the expansion of plaintiff’s rights in other areas of liability for defective vehicle design.
F. Patrick Hubbard & Evan Sobocinski, Crashworthiness: The Collision of Sellers' Responsibility for Product Safety with Comparative Fault, 69 S. C. L. Rev. 741 (2018).