Benevolent Maleficence:How a Well-Intentioned Legislature and a Deferential Court Combined to Stunt the Development of Massachusetts Product Liability Law
Massachusetts product liability law is unusual. Unlike most states, Massachusetts does not recognize strict tort liability in the product area. Rather, "strict product liability" is limited to breaches of warranty under Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code. the Massachusetts Legislature amended Article 2 in several ways to provide a "strict liability" remedy that is, in the words of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, "congruent in nearly all respects with the principles" of strict tort liability. The court has construed the amendments to the UCC as precluding the adoption of strict tort liability in Massachusetts. In most ways, Massachusetts product liability law is in the mainstream of general American Law. There are, however, vestiges of sales law that make that law unusual because of the way it developed. There are also problems of statutory interpretation caused by the engrafting of the concepts of strict tort liability into the contract law of Article 2. This article explores some of these problems. It argues that, by either judicial or legislative action, "strict product liability" should not be restricted to warranties that arise from a sale or lease. The article also discusses one of the remaining encumbrances of sales law, the requirement that a buyer give notice of a claimed breach of warranty to the seller or be barred from any remedy, and argues that the requirement does not apply to warranty beneficiaries, who are not buyers in privity with the seller, and that, in any event, the legislature should abolish the notice requirement in all warranty cases in which there has been personal injury. The article also discusses some of the problems of statutory interpretation caused by having two statutes of limitation and two notice provisions applicable to warranty claims in Article 2 as a result of the product liability amendments.