For most product liability cases involving design-defect claims, New Jersey’s Model Civil Jury Charges offer two options for instructing the jury on how to determine whether the design of the subject product was “defective.” Those two tests are known as the “risk-utility” test and the “reasonable safer design” test. See N.J. Model Civ. Jury Charge 5.40D-1 at 2-3 (Approved 4/99; Revised 5/10).
This article will briefly set forth the differences between those two tests and the contexts in which either is the appropriate option, but ultimately explains that there is not much of a practical difference between the two. Regardless of which test is selected in a design-defect case, the jury still must be instructed on the various risk-utility factors and evaluate whether the design of the product strikes an appropriate balance between the product’s risks and its usefulness.