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Defective Products and Consumer Rights

Dangerous or otherwise defective products cause injury to countless numbers of consumers each year. If you purchase a product that simply does not perform as advertised, causing no actual injury, then you may be covered by a warranty or at the very least have the option of returning it for a refund or exchange. See Product Warranties and Returns for more details.

However, you may have a personal injury claim if you have sustained an injury from a defective product. FindLaw's extensive Product Liability section, within the main Accidents and Injuries center, contains a wide variety of articles and resources to help you better understand and respond to a recall or injury from a dangerous product.

This article provides a general overview of your rights as a consumer with respect to recalled or injury-causing products. See our main Consumer Protection section for more topics.

Types of Product Defect Claims

The three main types of product defects are design defects, manufacturer defects, and defects in instructions or warnings. The legal remedy for injuries sustained from a defective consumer product varies from case to case.

  • Defects in Design - Example: A bicycle manufacturer's design specifies brake cables that tend to come apart when the rider applies the brakes during normal use.
  • Defects in Manufacturing - Example: A car has an accelerator that is prone to sticking, due to a defective manufacturing process, creating the possibility of a serious accident and injuries or death.
  • Defects in Warnings - Example: An adequate written warning is required for a space heater that is prone to overheating and causing a fire hazard if left on for more than 12 hours.

Legal Remedies for Defective Products

The law provides numerous remedies for the effects of dangerous consumer products, depending on the situation. The two main legal theories for product defect cases are negligence and strict liability:

  • Negligence: Plaintiffs may collect damages from a liable defendant (i.e. the manufacturer and/or retailer) if he or she can prove that the manufacturer breached a duty owed to a plaintiff, that this breach caused an injury, and that the plaintiff suffered actual damages as a result. For example, a motorcycle that wasn't tested properly and loses a wheel, causing serious injury to the rider, would most likely result in the plaintiff receiving a monetary award for damages. See "Proving Fault: What is Negligence?" for more information.

  • Strict Liability: Manufacturers are "strictly" liable for product defects occurring during the manufacturing process, regardless of the manufacturer's level of care. In other words, the plaintiff need not prove negligence in order to prevail in a lawsuit against a manufacturer for injuries caused by a dangerous product, as long as the defect resulted from a manufacturing error. See "Defects in Manufacturing" for more details.

Other legal avenues include the assertion of one's warranty rights (implied or express) and the theory of tortuous misrepresentation. See "Legal Basis for Liability in Product Cases" for a concise overview of these different legal theories.

Dangerous Products: From Cribs to Cigarettes

FindLaw provides targeted information about various different categories of defective or dangerous products, listed below:

See the U.S. government's Website for information about recent product recalls and a searchable database of past recalls. You can also learn about consumer protection laws by state on our consumer protection attorney answers page.

Getting Legal Help for a Defective or Dangerous Product

If you have been injured by a defective product, you may want to consider contacting a personal injury lawyer to learn about the legal remedies that may be available. See "Product Liability Legal Help" for more information about hiring an attorney for a product claim, plus links to consumer protection agencies and applicable laws.

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