One of the most significant issues in product liability litigation today is whether retailers and distributors can be held strictly liable for defective products. The majority of jurisdictions, including West Virginia, impute strict liability on retailers and distributors. Accordingly, even an innocent seller in West Virginia may be subject to liability simply due to its presence in the chain of distribution. Senate Bill 302, if enacted, seeks to limit sellers' liability in product liability actions.
Under SB 302, product liability actions can only be brought against a seller that manufactured the product. However, the protection provided to sellers is not absolute. Sellers could still be liable for a defective product if such seller falls within one of the bill's exceptions, including if the seller exercises substantial control over the product, modifies, alters, or otherwise sells the product in a different form than its manufactured state, removed warnings or made additional warranties, was negligent in assembling or maintaining the product, if the manufactured cannot be identified, or if the manufacturer is insolvent.
If enacted in its current form, SB 302 would undoubtedly provide a viable defense to sellers and distributors of allegedly defective products and shift West Virginia toward the growing trend of states that protect sellers within the chain of distribution.