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Defective Products and Consumer Rights

Many people suffer injuries due to dangerous or defective products each year. Sellers and product manufacturers must take precautions to protect you from goods that could cause injury.

If you buy a product that fails to work as advertised but hasn't caused harm, a warranty might protect you. Otherwise, you might be able to return it for an exchange or refund.

But if the defective product causes harm, you may have a personal injury claim. An accident involving the product could be a product liability case.

Consumer protection laws give you options and remedies. This article will explain your consumer rights for recalls, product defects, and serious injuries.

Types of Claims for Product Defects

Below are the three main types of product defects and examples of each:

  • Design Defects: A bicycle manufacturer's instructions specify using a type of brake cable. The cable type tends to come apart when the rider tries to stop the bike.
  • Manufacturing Defects: A car assembly worker installs an accelerator with a method that makes it prone to sticking, which increases the risk of causing a car accident.
  • Warning and Labeling Defects: Warnings are necessary for a space heater that might overheat and start a fire after 12 hours of use.

Your recovery options for a defective consumer product will vary by case. The law can protect you in different ways depending on how the product became defective.

Liability for Defective Products

The law provides many remedies for the effects of faulty consumer products. The remedy will depend on your situation. The two common legal theories for product defect cases are negligence and strict liability. Warranties and misrepresentations can also apply in some circumstances.

Defects From Retailer and Manufacturer Negligence

Sometimes, a product's defect should be noticeable and avoidable for a responsible seller. Proper precautions, such as reasonable testing and instructions, would have prevented the defect.

If a distributor or manufacturer didn't use those precautions, it was negligent under product liability laws. But you'd have to argue a negligence claim before you can collect damages. You must prove that the company's business practice breached a duty to your safety, causing your injuries.

In the space heater example above, you may need to prove that the business should have known its product could start a fire. You would also argue that the heater you bought started the fire. Finally, you'd show proof linking your injuries to the fire.

Strict Liability for Manufacturing Defects

Products can develop defects even when businesses do everything possible to avoid them. Precautions don't always stop production and assembly flaws.

Manufacturers are strictly liable for product defects that happen in the manufacturing process. Strict liability means the manufacturer is the responsible party by law. You wouldn't have to prove that the manufacturer was negligent.

In the car accelerator example above, the auto manufacturer may have trained its assembly workers to avoid that installation method. It would nonetheless be liable for the worker's mistake. Furthermore, cars are uniquely subject to lemon laws, another type of consumer protection.

Breach of Warranty

You almost always have rights under implied warranties. Federal laws set the expectation that the products you buy will be safe and work for their intended uses. You can seek recovery under these warranty rights if a defect makes the product unusable or creates a hazard.

You may have additional legal rights under the seller or manufacturer's express warranties. For example, a retailer's advertisement may have guaranteed a new hammock could hold up to 300 pounds. Breaking under 170 pounds would be a breach of warranty.

However, a warranty might not help if the product's defect arose from the customer's improper use or poor maintenance. Some warranties expire after a period of time. Limited warranties might only cover particular parts of the product. Check warranty laws or your sales agreement to determine how they might relate to your defective product.

Consumers May Buy Dangerous Products

Some consumer goods are inherently dangerous and prone to defects. They are frequently the subject of recalls when a defect has caused or is likely to cause injury.

FindLaw explains how laws protect consumers against specific defective or dangerous products below:

See the U.S. government's website for information about recent product recalls. You can also search its database of past recalls.

Getting Your Money Back

When electronics, furniture, and other goods are defective, customers might want to simply recoup their costs. As long as there are no injuries, your loss from a defective product is usually the money you paid.

You can usually resolve defective product issues by contacting the seller or manufacturer. Most businesses are willing to refund, replace, or repair a defective product.

The company may ask for a few details about your purchase, such as when and where you bought it or your order number. It might also ask about how you used and maintained the product. These factors may determine whether you are entitled to a remedy under the return policy or warranty.

Buying Defective Products on Final Sale

If you buy an item marked "final sale," you generally can't return it to the store. Carefully inspect these items to look for problems before you commit to a purchase.

But products with significant and hidden defects are the exception. You might only have a chance to identify these defects once you bring the item home.

Sellers can't use final sales and "as-is" disclaimers to sidestep implied warranty laws. This rule protects customers from scams. Without it, a business could sell shoddy products at final sale but refuse to offer any remedy.

Know Your Consumer Rights in Disputes

Businesses sometimes refuse to help customers with defective products. They might claim that the defect was due to improper use. Or the product might no longer have warranty coverage.

Refusals to offer a remedy can be legitimate in some cases. Yet, some refusals might violate your rights under consumer protection laws. Knowing the difference can be challenging. You may want legal advice if contacting the company fails to yield a fair outcome.

Defective Product Injury Claims

Dangerous defects that cause injuries can complicate your case. Your losses after an injury may far exceed the product's price. For example, you may have medical bills for treating your injury. You might have also lost income due to missing work.

Companies are unlikely to pay for these additional losses unless you show enough proof that they caused the injury. A product liability claim might be more effective than pleading with customer support.

Learn More About Your Legal Options

Defective products can lead to many consequences for customers. Poor designs, information gaps, and manufacturing flaws can risk your safety. In some cases, they can even be fatal.

That's why the law treats product defects as serious issues. You can speak to a consumer protection attorney if a business violates your consumer rights. Or, if a defective product has injured you, consider contacting a personal injury lawyer.

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