Product Liability Overview
Dangerous and defective products cause thousands of injuries yearly in the United States. These hazardous and faulty products include children's toys, electronics, and vehicles. Lawmakers require manufacturers to protect consumers from potential hazards. Manufacturers have more insight and knowledge about their products. They should assume financial responsibility for any injuries or damage their products cause. This section covers the basics of product liability law, including:
- Different types of product defects
- The "ordinary consumer" standard
- Statutes of limitations for product liability claims
An Ordinary Consumer's Expectations
Product liability laws vary from state to state. They are different from ordinary personal injury laws and have their own rules and procedures. Like personal injury laws, product liability laws help victims receive compensation for injuries caused by dangerous products.
Any product released to the market must meet the "ordinary expectations of a consumer." Generally, consumers should be able to trust that manufacturers wouldn't sell a product if it were dangerous or defective.
One way to look at it is that there is an implied contract between the manufacturer and the consumer. When the manufacturer sells a dangerous or defective product, they breach this contract. This also constitutes a breach of warranty because the products do not conform to the consumers' contractual expectations.
Depending on the type of defect, your personal injury lawyer may need to sue multiple parties. For example, you may need to sue the following:
- The manufacturer
- The product designer
- The retailer
- Another seller in the distribution chain
Depending on your case, any of these entities may be responsible for your injury. Your personal injury lawyer will evaluate the facts and sue the proper responsible parties.
Product Liability Involves Strict Liability
Product liability is a strict liability offense. This means the consumer doesn't need to prove that the manufacturer or distributor was negligent. Tort law also governs causes of action arising from a defective or unsafe product.
Consumer goods are also subject to the rules and regulations of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). Warranty claims will be reviewed and measured against the UCC. There are different types of warranties.
For example, the implied warranty of merchantability promises that the product sold will work as promised. There is also an implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose, which promises that the product will work for the intended purpose.
Take note that if a salesperson verbally made promises about a product before you bought it, an express warranty may also be available. Your product liability attorney can file suit under tort or breach of contract. For the most part, however, your attorney will file a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer first.
Types of Product Defects
There are three types of product liability claims. All of them fall under strict product liability. They also apply mainly to consumer products.
The main types of product liability cases include:
Some products would be unsafe no matter how well the manufacturers made them.
For example, years ago, there was a car called the Fiero. People who drove this car suffered severe injuries and wrongful death due to a specific design defect.
Attorneys proved it would blow up when somebody hit the Fiero in a particular spot. The auto manufacturer quickly took the Fiero off the market.
Other products would be perfectly safe had the manufacturer made the product properly. When a manufacturer fails to inspect their products at each stage, things can go wrong.
For example, if a manufacturer does not calibrate a machine correctly, people can get hurt or even die.
The same is true if the company uses defective or cheap parts. If your attorney can prove that your injuries were due to a manufacturing defect, you may be entitled to significant damages.
Certain products are naturally dangerous. For example, it doesn't matter how much a designer or manufacturer tries — they cannot make a chainsaw "safe." When this is the case, manufacturers and other parties in the distribution channel must warn consumers of potential dangers.
A typical example of this involves toys for young children. You have probably seen labels that state that a product is not suited for kids under a certain age. When a company fails to provide adequate warnings, people can get hurt.
Other examples of marketing defects include:
- Improper labeling
- Misrepresentations in product marketing
- Insufficient instructions regarding product use
- Inadequate warnings about product safety
Defenses to Product Liability Claims
One defense often raised in product liability cases is that the plaintiff did not correctly identify the manufacturer or supplier of the specified product. A plaintiff must be able to connect the product with the party or parties responsible for manufacturing or supplying it.
Another defense is that the plaintiff substantially altered the product after it left the manufacturer's control, and this alteration caused the plaintiff's injury. The defendant may also argue that the plaintiff misused the product in an unforeseeable way and that their misuse of the product caused the injuries.
How Product Liability Lawyers Handle Claims
Product liability actions are often quite complex, and it can be hard to establish fault. Often, attorneys hire experts to help prove a design or manufacturing defect. You may also require an expert to confirm that a risk of harm exists with a particular product.
If a defective or unsafe product injures you, you must consult an experienced attorney. Every state has its laws on product liability. Rather than try to handle things on your own, your personal injury attorney can help.
Lawyers will help review your claim and apply the laws of your jurisdiction to your case to review your legal options. They will use different theories of liability in your case and help you decide the best course of action moving forward.
Keep the following in mind. Most jurisdictions have a statute of limitations for when you can file a product liability lawsuit. This means you must be proactive and prompt in pursuing your cause of action.
Learn More About Product Liability
Use FindLaw's Product Liability Center to learn about various pharmaceutical product injuries, medical malpractice cases, defective medical devices, auto-related injuries, toxic chemicals, and other materials.
Findlaw also offers a wide array of resources on design defects, manufacturing defects, defects in warning, and much more.
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