Is Safety Equipment Ever Optional?

Kenneth Ross, one of the more discerning authors in the product liability defense bar, has authored a thoughtful piece titled, Is There Anything Optional About Safety? in the August ’09 DRI Product Liability Committee Newsletter–"Strictly Speaking".  As manufacturers design new products and update the design of old products, many times they sell and offer for sale differing levels of safety and quality.  Ken’s article explores the legal and practical risks in selling products with these differences and provides advice to manufacturers about minimizing risk.  As one law professor notes, the case law is "muddled and quite sparse".  There are cases on both sides–those that hold that safety devices can be optional and those that hold that not installing a safety device establishes a basis for liability.  Ken discusses several important considerations that should be weighed in performing this delicate balancing act.