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Product Liability Law FAQ

Many people are familiar with the term "Product Liability." However, not many people understand how product liability claims work. Most claims filed under product liability law in the U.S. involve negligence, strict liability, or breach of warranty.

For the most part, your state's product liability regulations govern dangerous and defective product cases. Not surprisingly, these laws vary from state to state. So does the statute of limitations, which dictates how long an injured party has to file their legal claim.

If an unsafe product harms you or a loved one, you may have a cause of action against the manufacturer of the product, the company that designed the faulty product, and any other member of the chain of distribution.

This article discusses frequently asked questions surrounding product liability laws and lawsuits.

What does product liability mean?

Product liability refers to a manufacturer or seller being liable for placing a defective product into a consumer's hands. This liability flows to all members of the product's distribution chain.

Your product liability attorney will ensure they name all potential defendants in your initial claim. This may include some or all of the following parties:

  • Manufacturer
  • Manufacturer of component parts
  • Product designer
  • Wholesaler
  • Retail store

As long as your attorney files suit within the time limit prescribed by law, you can make a claim to recover compensation for your injuries.

Are there federal product liability laws?

State law controls the enforcement of your legal rights after using a defective or dangerous product, as there are no federal laws governing product liability. These state laws come from the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). There are no federal product liability laws at this time.

What are your options if you're injured by a product?

A person injured by a defective or dangerous product may be able to file suit to recover damages under one of three theories. The first is strict product liability. Under this theory, you do not need to prove the defendant was negligent. All you have to show is that you purchased or used their product and that the product injured you.

Negligence is the standard in most personal injury cases. To prove negligence, your attorney must demonstrate the following four things:

  • The manufacturer, designer, retailer, or distributor owed you a duty of care
  • They breached this duty
  • You suffered an injury
  • The defective or unsafe product caused your injuries

The third theory you can sue under is a breach of warranty. When a company sells a product to a consumer, it makes certain promises. They promise the item will work the way they designed it to work. The company also promises that the product is safe. If the defendant breaches these warranties, they may be liable for economic and non-economic damages.

What is strict product liability?

Strict product liability is a theory that governs most product liability cases. As briefly explained above, in strict liability cases, the victim doesn't have to prove negligence. They must prove that the defendant supplied them with the product that caused them harm.

Strict liability may apply to cases based on a faulty manufacturing process or those based on marketing defects.

Can I sue based on a product supplier's breach of warranty?

There are two types of warranties: implied warranties and express warranties. You might be able to recover for a breach of an implied warranty if your state has implied warranty statutes. These are usually found in a state's commercial code and cover most categories of products.

You might recover for a breach of express warranty if the seller or manufacturer of a product expressly extended a warranty to you, in writing or verbally, and the product injured you.

What are implied warranties?

Implied warranties apply to most products sold within the state. Some examples of implied warranties include the warranty of merchantability and the warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. These warranties state that a product will be fit and safe for its intended purpose.

Can a manufacturer avoid liability with a disclaimer?

There are very specific rules regarding manufacturer disclaimers. Essentially, a company must disclaim any warranties that are implied under state law. The manufacturer must use specific and conspicuous language.

If the manufacturer successfully disclaims all implied warranties, you cannot recover for a breach of such warranties. However, you should not make this determination yourself. Show your attorney the documents that came with the product. They can determine if a breach exists.

Can you use evidence of the safety modifications to prove your product liability case?

The law is clear on this issue. Generally, you cannot use evidence of subsequent remedial measures to prove negligence or intent. However, the plaintiff can use it to show other facts about the manufacturer, such as ownership or control over the product's design.

Can I bring a case if I do not own the product?

Historically, a contractual relationship, known as privity of contract, had to exist between the person injured by a product and the supplier of the product in order for the injured person to recover damages.

In most states today, however, that requirement no longer exists, and the injured person does not have to be the purchaser of the product in order to recover.

Can I file a claim for injuries caused by a prescription drug or medical device?

You can sue under product liability if you're hurt or become sick after using a prescription medication or medical device. Many of the class action lawsuits filed today involve these types of products. As with other product liability claims, you can demand compensation for the following losses:

  • Medical bills
  • Future medical costs
  • Emotional distress
  • Pain and suffering
  • Lost wages
  • Lost future income
  • Property damage
  • Punitive damages

When you first retain your lawyer, they will review the evidence to see if you have a valid claim.

What if a product's defect only caused property damage?

Sometimes, a plaintiff sues the manufacturer or retailer for property damage. For example, if a manufacturing or design defect destroys your car, you may receive compensation for its fair market value.

Can I file a claim on behalf of a loved one who died as a result of a defective product?

You may have a legal claim if your loved one was injured or passed away after using a dangerous or defective product. It depends on the wrongful death laws in your state. It's best to talk to an experienced product liability attorney to determine your options.

How long do I have to file a product liability claim?

Every state has rules about how long you have to sue another party. Product liability cases fall under the personal injury statute of limitations. This is why you should contact an attorney as soon as possible after your injury. You want them to have ample time to prepare and pursue your case.

Can a product liability lawyer help?

You may be entitled to compensation if you're injured while using a dangerous or defective product. Depending on the facts of your product liability claim, you may be entitled to the damages outlined earlier in this section.

A good first step is to contact an experienced product liability lawyer.

There's no guarantee that you will recover damages. However, if your attorney can prove that a design defect existed or that there was a manufacturing defect, you'll have a good chance of recovering the compensation you deserve.

Product liability lawsuits are typically complex, so you'll want to talk with a product liability attorney for legal advice before moving forward.

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