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California Product Liability Laws

Californians have some of the most fun products out there -- everything from self-driving cars to ultrabooks to drone cameras. But what happens when your toy turns into a terror? Or the drugs you were prescribed cause your baby to be born with a defect? If something you purchased caused you pain, you will be thankful that California's product liability laws are so consumer friendly.

Read the table and explanations below for summaries of important aspects of California product liability laws.

Statutes of Limitation

· 2 years for personal injury (CCP § 335.1)

· 3 years for property damage (CCP § 335.1)

Discovery Rule Used

· Yes (Landale Cameron Court, Inc. v. Ahonen, (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 1401, 1407)

Statute of Repose

· 10 years - limited application (CCP § 337.15)

Limits on Damages

· Economic loss rule (Seely v. White Motor Company, 63 Cal.2nd9, 18 (1965))

Comparative Fault

· Pure Comparative Fault (CCP § 1431.2)

Time Limits

If you were burned, cut, or otherwise injured by a product, you can bring a personal injury claim within two years of discovering that your injury was caused by the product in question. If the product caused your house to catch on fire, put a hole in your wall, or caused other damage to your property, you can bring a property damage claim within three years of this discovery. California does have a statute of repose, but it only applies if the "product" in question is an "improvement on real property" -- for example, electrical work or track lighting.

Limits on Damages

California uses the pure comparative fault standard. This means that if a product exploded, causing $20,000 in damage to your roof, even if you were 80 percent at fault, you could still potentially recover $4,000 from the manufacturer or seller of the product. California also uses the economic loss rule. The economic loss rule prevents recovery of purely economic losses, such as lost profits.

Basis for Liability

There are three main categories of product liability: defective design, manufacturing defect, or lack of adequate warnings or instructions.

Defective Design

In defective design cases, courts in California use two tests to determine liability: the risk/benefit test, and the consumer expectations test. If technical issues regarding the feasibility of a design have to be considered -- for instance, cost, practicality, risk, and/or benefit -- the court must use the risk/benefit test. A product fails this test if there is a risk of danger inherent in the product's design that outweighs the benefits of that design. The consumer expectations test is used only expert opinion is unnecessary to prove that the product fails to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect when the product is used in an intended or reasonably foreseeable manner.

Manufacturing Defect

If you’re claiming the product that caused your injuries was defectively manufactured despite the manufacturer having used the utmost care at all stages in the manufacturing process, your attorney will instead file a claim of strict liability for a manufacturing defect.

Lack of Adequate Warning or Instructions

Sometimes products are still dangerous, even if they were designed safely and manufactured perfectly. For example, if your drone is known to suddenly lose power and fall out of the sky after three hours of flying, the manufacturer must warn you of this.


There are two main defenses that a manufacturer may use in California to defend against fault in a product liability claim. The first is that you misused or modified the product in a way that was not reasonably foreseeable (and that misuse or modification was the sole cause of your injuries). The second is that you are a "sophisticated user" -- meaning that because of experience, knowledge, or skill, you know or should have known that the product was dangerous.

Get Legal Help with Your Product Liability Case in California

Whether your medications caused your baby to suffer a congenital malformation, the toy you bought for your tike was defectively manufactured, or some chief executive officer made a bad call by focusing too much on the bottom line, you may be entitled to damages. If you were maimed by merchandise or otherwise hurt by something you bought, speak to a personal injury attorney with experience litigating product liability claims in California.

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