VINCENT J. BIFOLCK, EXECUTOR OF THE ESTATE OF JEANETTE D. BIFOLCK, et al. v. PHILIP MORRIS, INC., SC 19310
United States District Court, District of Connecticut
Product Liability; Negligence; Whether "Unreasonably Dangerous" Requirement of § 402A of Restatement (Second) of Torts Applies to Negligence Claim Under Connecticut Product Liability Act; Whether Common-Law Rule of Punitive Damages Applies to Award of Punitive Damages Under General Statutes § 52-240b. The plaintiff brought this action in federal court under the Connecticut Product Liability Act (CPLA), General Statutes § 52-572m et seq., alleging that the Marlboro and Marlboro Lights cigarettes produced and sold by the defendant were defectively designed and manufactured, causing his wife's lung cancer and ultimate death. The plaintiff asserted claims grounded in strict liability and negligence. With respect to negligence, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant failed to comply with the applicable standard of care by knowingly designing and manufacturing the cigarettes in a way that enhanced their addictive and cancer-causing properties and by failing to implement design changes that would render the cigarettes less addictive and less toxic. The parties acknowledged that, in order for the plaintiff to prevail on his negligence claim, he had to establish that the cigarettes were "defective." They disagreed, however, as to whether a negligently designed product must also be "unreasonably dangerous" as provided in § 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts. Comment (i) to § 402A provides that a product is "unreasonably dangerous" if it is "dangerous to an extent beyond that which would be contemplated by the ordinary consumer who purchases it, with the ordinary knowledge common to the community as to its characteristics." The District Court noted that, while the Connecticut Supreme Court has adopted the “consumer expectations” test set out in comment (i) to § 402A for CPLA claims grounded in strict liability, there was no authoritative Connecticut precedent addressing whether § 402A’s “unreasonably dangerous” requirement applies to a CPLA claim of negligent design. The District Court therefore certified, and the Supreme Court accepted, the following question pursuant to General Statutes § 51-199b: "Does section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts (and Comment i to that provision) apply to a product liability claim for negligence under the CPLA?" Also, the plaintiff is seeking punitive damages under General Statutes § 52-240b, which provides that punitive damages may be awarded in product liability actions and limits such damages to "an amount equal to twice the damages awarded to the plaintiff" but does not indicate how the damages should be calculated. Prior to the enactment of the CPLA, punitive damages in product liability actions were calculated under the common-law rule, which limits punitive damages to the expenses of litigation less taxable costs. Determining that the language of the CPLA and its legislative history provide no indication as to whether § 52-240b incorporates or abrogates the common-law rule, the District Court also certified, and the Supreme Court accepted, the following question: "Does Connecticut's common-law rule of punitive damages, as articulated in Waterbury Petroleum Products, Inc. v. Canaan Oil & Fuel Co., 193 Conn. 208 (1984), apply to an award of statutory punitive damages pursuant to General Statutes § 52-240b, the punitive damages provision of the CPLA?"