Gottschall V. Crane Co.

  • First Appellate District
  • 10/22/14
  • Sophisticated User Defense

A concise primer on the “sophisticated user” defense first articulated in Johnson v. American Standard, Inc. (2008) 43 Cal.4th 56:

“Our Supreme Court first endorsed the doctrine of “sophisticated user” in 2008, holding in essence that users of products that could be seen as potentially dangerous cannot hold the producers of those products liable if those users were clearly knowledgeable about the product being used and its potential danger. It was in Johnson, supra, 43 Cal.4th 56, where a unanimous court held as follows: “The sophisticated user defense exempts manufacturers from their typical obligation to provide product users with warnings about the products’ potential hazards. [Citation.] The defense is considered an exception to the manufacturer’s general duty to warn consumers, and therefore, in most jurisdictions, if successfully argued, acts as an affirmative defense to negate the manufacturer’s duty to warn. [Citation.] “Under the sophisticated user defense, sophisticated users need not be warned about dangers of which they are already aware or should be aware. [Citation.] Because these sophisticated users are charged with knowing the particular product’s dangers, the failure to warn about those dangers is not the legal cause of any harm that product may cause. [Citation.] The rationale supporting the defense is that ‘the failure to provide warnings about risks already known to a sophisticated purchaser usually is not a proximate cause of harm resulting from those risks suffered by the buyer’s employees or downstream purchasers.’ (Ibid.) This is because the user’s knowledge of the dangers is the equivalent of prior notice. [Citation.] “As we explain further below, the sophisticated user defense evolved out of the Restatement Second of Torts, section 38

8 (section 388) and the obvious danger rule, an accepted principle and defense in California. [Citations.] In addition . . . the defense applies equally to strict liability and negligent failure to warn cases. The duty to warn is measured by what is generally known or should have been known to the class of sophisticated users, rather than by the individual plaintiff’s subjective knowledge. [Citation.]” (Johnson, supra, 43 Cal.4th at pp. 65-66.)”