Is a presumption created when the manufacturer followed government regulations?

Under Tennessee law, there is a rebuttable presumption that a product is not in an unreasonably dangerous condition under certain circumstances where the manufacturer/seller followed federal or state statute or administrative regulations.  Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-28-104.

In order for the presumption to apply, the federal or state statute or administrative regulation must:

  • exist at the time a product was manufactured;
  • prescribe standards for design, inspection, testing, manufacture, labeling, warning, or instructions for use of a product.   Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-28-104.

Further, the presumption is limited to “matters covered by these standards.”  Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-28-104(a).  Accordingly,  the statute/regulation that the manufacturer tries to rely on must govern manufacturer’s conduct  For example, in Hughes v. Lumbermens Mut. Cas. Co., Inc., 2 S.W.3d 218 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1999), a manufacturer tried to invoke the presumption based on an OSHA regulation that governed “service” of wheels by “employers.”  Id. at 224.  The Court of Appeals held the trial court’s jury instruction applying the rebuttable presumption was in error.  As the Court of Appeals said, “[a] manufacturer cannot comply with standards that do not apply to the manufacturer’s conduct.”  Id.  Similarly, in Tuggle v. Raymond Corp., the presumption was not allowed for a forklift manufacturer where an OSHA standard recommended against operator enclosures because rapid and unobstructed ingress and egress is considered more desirable.  Tuggle v. Raymond Corp., 868 S.W.2d 621, 624 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1992).  As the Court of Appeals stated, “[w]e hold that the plain language of T.C.A. § 29-28-104 is that the presumption is limited to ‘matters covered by these standards.’  The OSHA regulations ‘cover’ or are applicable to an employer’s conduct, not a manufacturer’s conduct.”  Id. at 625.