Product Liability Overview
Dangerous and defective products cause thousands of injuries every year in the U.S. These products include all sorts of consumer goods, running the gamut from children's products to consumer electronics and vehicles. Product liability laws are based on the premise that companies generally have a duty to protect consumers from potential hazards. Courts have held that manufacturers generally have more insight and knowledge about their products, so it falls to them to assume financial responsibility for any injuries or damage they cause.
An Ordinary Consumer's Expectations
Product liability laws vary from state to state and they differ from ordinary personal injury laws, with their own set of rules and procedures. These laws provide the victims of dangerous products with legal recourse for injuries suffered.
A product is typically required to meet the ordinary expectations of a consumer. When a product has an unexpected defect or danger, the product cannot be said to meet those expectations. This is considered a breach of warranty since the products do not conform to the contractual expectations. Depending on the type of defect, any number of different parties may be held liable for the injuries caused by a defective product, such as a manufacturer, retailer, or another seller in the chain of distribution.
Product liability is a strict liability offense, meaning that the consumer doesn't need to prove that the manufacturer or distributor was negligent. It is considered a tort and causes of action are therefore guided by tort law. All goods are also subject to the rules and regulations of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), and so warranty claims will be reviewed in compliance with the UCC. There are different types of warranties that may apply, such as the implied warranty of merchantability and the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. Or, if a salesperson made oral representations to you at the time you purchased the product, there may be an express warranty available, too.
Types of Product Defects
There are three types of defects that might cause injury and give rise to manufacturer or supplier liability: design defects, manufacturing defects, and marketing defects. Design defects are present in a product from the beginning, even before it is manufactured. Here, something in the product design is inherently unsafe. Manufacturing defects occur in the course of a product's manufacture or assembly, such as an error resulting in a missing component part. Finally, marketing defects are flaws in the way a product is marketed, such as improper labeling, misrepresentations in product marketing, insufficient instructions regarding the use of the product, or inadequate warnings about product safety.
Defenses to Product Liability Claims
One defense often raised in product liability cases is that the plaintiff has not sufficiently identified the supplier of the identified 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. A related defense is that the plaintiff misused the product in an unforeseeable way and that their misuse of the product cause the injuries.
Product Liability Lawyers
Product liability actions are often quite complex, and establishing legal fault can require the assistance and testimony of experts. There are several theories under which a plaintiff might bring a claim, as well as defenses that might defeat such a claim. In addition, every state has its own laws and specific statutes that will affect a product liability action. Accordingly, it is important to consult an experienced attorney if you or a loved one suffers injury caused by a potentially defective product.
Lawyers will help review your claim and apply the laws of your jurisdiction to your case to review your legal options. They will apply different theories of liability to your case and help you decide the best course of action moving forward. Keep in mind that some jurisdictions might have a statute of limitations on when you can file a product liability suit, so it is important to be proactive and prompt in pursuing your cause of action.
Learn More About Product Liability
Use FindLaw's Product Liability Center to learn more about a wide variety of pharmaceutical product injuries, defective medical devices, auto-related product injuries, toxic chemicals, and materials. There is also a wide array of resources on design defects, manufacturing defects, defects in warning, and much more.
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