Is a Manufacturer or Seller’s Compliance with Statutes and Administrative Regulations a Defense in a Tennessee Product Liability Cause of Action?

Posted on Dec 16 2013 8:41AM by Attorney, Jason A. Lee

Analysis:  A manufacturer or seller’s compliance with federal or state statutes and regulations can have a significant impact on a product liability cause of action.  Compliance with statutes and regulations pertaining to the product can provide a rebuttable presumption that the product is not in an unreasonably dangerous condition for the matter specifically covered in the statute or regulation.  This is limited to situations where the statute or regulation pertains to the “design, inspection, testing, manufacture, labeling, warning or instructions for use of a product.”  T.C.A. § 29-28-104(a) provides as follows:


(a) Compliance by a manufacturer or seller with any federal or state statute or administrative regulation existing at the time a product was manufactured and prescribing standards for design, inspection, testing, manufacture, labeling, warning or instructions for use of a product, shall raise a rebuttable presumption that the product is not in an unreasonably dangerous condition in regard to matters covered by these standards.


An amendment to this statute that took effect October 1, 2011 provided additional protections to manufacturers or sellers that comply with product specific statutes and regulations.  A manufacturer or seller (other than the manufacturer of a drug or device) is not liable for exemplary or punitive damages if:


(1) The product alleged to have caused the harm was designed, manufactured, packaged, labeled, sold, or represented in relevant and material respects in accordance with the terms of approval, license or similar determination of a government agency; or


(2) The product was in compliance with a statute of the state or the United States, or a standard, rule, regulation, order, or other action of a government agency pursuant to statutory authority, when such statute or agency action is relevant to the event or risk allegedly causing the harm and the product was in compliance at the time the product left the control of the manufacturer or seller.


(See T.C.A. § 29-28-104(b)).  This exemption from exemplary or punitive damages will not apply if the product was ordered to be removed from the market by the government prior to the time of the incident in question. (See T.C.A. § 29-28-104(c)(1))  Further, if information was withheld or misrepresented to the government and that information is relevant to the harm caused in the incident in question, then this exemption from exemplar and punitive damages will also not apply (See T.C.A. § 29-28-104(c)(2)). 


As a result, when dealing with a products liability action in Tennessee from the defense side, statutes and regulations that pertain to the product should be carefully reviewed.  If there are statutes and regulations that provide requirements for the product, then you need to consider whether they can provide a defense to the cause of action under T.C.A. § 29-28-104


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TAGS: Tennessee Tort Reform, Defenses, Punitive Damages, Products Liability
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Jason A. Lee is a Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC. He practices in all areas of defense litigation inside and outside of Tennessee.

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Tennessee Defense Litigation Blog
Jason A. Lee, Member of Burrow Lee, PLLC
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Nashville, TN 37203
Phone: 615-540-1004
E-mail: jlee@burrowlee.com