California Court Adopts "Sophisticated User Doctrine"

Yesterday, for the first time, a California appellate court accepted the "sophisticated user doctrine" as a defense in products liability cases:

In this products liability case, defendant and respondent American Standard moved for summary judgment in part based on the legal principle which other jurisdictions have termed the sophisticated user doctrine. (See, e.g., Crook v. Kaneb Pipe Line Operating Partnership, L.P. (8th Cir.2000) 231 F.3d 1098, 1102; Strong v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours Co., Inc. (8th Cir.1981) 667 F.2d 682, 687; Mayberry v. Akron Rubber Machinery Corp. (N.D.Okla.1979) 483 F.Supp. 407, 413; Littlehale v. E. I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. (S.D.N.Y.1966) 268 F.Supp. 791, 798, and the cases collected therein.) We hold that the doctrine is part of California law. That is, we hold that a manufacturer cannot be liable to a sophisticated user of its product for failure to warn of a risk, if a sophisticated user should reasonably know of that risk.

The sophisticated user doctrine holds that "there is ordinarily no duty to give warning to members of a profession against generally known risks. 'There need be no warning to one in a particular trade or profession against a danger generally known to that trade or profession.' 4 Shearman & Redfield, Negligence § 656 (Rev. ed. 1941); see Rosebrock v. General Elec. Co., 236 N.Y. 227, 237-238, 240-241, 140 N.E. 571, 574, 575 (1923); McDaniel v. Williams, 23 App.Div.2d 729, 257 N.Y.S.2d 702 (1st Dep't 1965); Parker v. State, 201 Misc. 416, 105 N.Y.S.2d 735, 741 (Ct.Cl. 1951), aff'd, 280 App.Div. 157, 112 N.Y.S.2d 695 (3d Dep't 1952); cf., Marker v. Universal Oil Prod. Co., 250 F.2d 603 (10th Cir. 1957); Kappa v. E. I. Du Pont De Nemours & Co., 57 F.Supp. 32 (E.D.Mich.1944); Morocco v. Northwest Eng'r Co., 310 F.2d 809, 810 (6th Cir. 1962); Jamieson v. Woodward & Lothrop, 247 F.2d 23 (D.C.Cir.), cert. denied, 355 U.S. 855, 78 S.Ct. 84, 2 L.Ed. 63 (1957); Sawyer v. Pine Oil Sales Co., 155 F.2d 855 (5th Cir. 1946); Stottlemire v. Coward, 213 F.Supp. 897 (D.D.C.1963)." (Littlehale v. E. I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. (S.D.N.Y.1966) 268 F.Supp. 791, 798.)

"[W]here the danger or potentiality of danger is known or should be known to the user, the duty (to warn) does not attach." (Mayberry v. Akron Rubber Machinery Corp. (N.D.Okla.1979) 483 F.Supp. 407, 413.)

The California case is Johnson v. American Standard, Inc. (2nd App. Dist., Div. 5, Oct. 17, 2005) No. B179206. Judging from the ginormous string cites above, this is not good news for American Standard.