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Defective Products: What's My Case Worth?

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. | Last updated on

You bought a product and got hurt due to a defect. What should you do now?

Look to product liability law for relief. This is the area of the law that holds companies accountable for damages due to product defects. No one can say what your case is worth without serious examination, but here are some basics to consider.

Product Liability Primer

The principle behind product liability is that consumers' ordinary expectations should be met when buying things. Purchases should not be unusual, neither defective nor dangerous.

Companies whose products do not meet ordinary expectations may be sued under a few theories -- negligence, strict liability and breach of warranty. The precise rules that will apply depend on the state in which you will sue as there is no federal product liability law. States model these rules on a set of commercial law principles called the Uniform Commercial Code.

Who Can You Sue?

Although traditionally product liability claims were limited to a purchaser only, in many states this is no longer the case. That means that you may sue for damages due to a defective product received as a gift.

If it was foreseeable that you could have been injured by the item's entry into the marketplace, you have standing to sue. But note that there are limitations. Defendants do need to be in the distributor's regular supply chain for strict liability cases.

As for whom to sue, it depends on the details of the case -- the product, the defect, and where it arose. But theoretically, anyone on the chain of production and distribution can be liable, including:

  • Parts manufacturers
  • Product Manufacturers
  • Product Assemblers or Installers
  • Wholesalers
  • Retailers

The Thing Speaks for Itself

There are some interesting theories at play in product liability law. One is res ipsa loquitor, Latin for 'the thing speaks for itself.'

Things speak for themselves when they are obvious. So, in some product liability cases, where the defect is particularly egregious and clearly arises from negligence, the burden of proof shifts. Instead of you, the plaintiff, proving that the defendant was negligent, the defendant must show that it was not negligent. That makes it easier for you.

Strict Liability in Brief

Another interesting notion is that of strict liability. This allows consumers to sue for a product defect that damaged them without proving negligence.

There are three conditions to making this claim. If you can show all three of the following, you need not prove carelessness on the seller or maker's part. They are:

1. The product had an unreasonably dangerous defect that injured a user. The defect occurred in the design, manufacture, shipping or handling.

2. The defect caused injury while used as intended.

3. The product was not substantially altered so as to affect performance.

Consult With Counsel

As you can see, product liability law is quite complex and you will need an attorney. But now you know the basics before consulting with counsel.

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