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Chain of Distribution in a Defective Products Claim

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What is the Chain of Distribution in a Defective Products Claim?

In a defective products lawsuit, it is possible for more than one party to be liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.  This is because the product, such as a high chair or a portable heater, passes through a “chain of distribution” involving many different parties.  The chain of distribution is basically the path that the product takes, from the manufacturer, to distributors, etc., until it finally reaches the consumer.

As the product passes through the chain of distribution, it is possible for the product to become defective in some way through the negligence of one of the parties.  Thus, it can often become difficult to prove who’s liable for a defective product, since the product can pass through several different hands. However, this chain is broken if the product is sold secondhand, such as through a grey market transaction.

Who Can Be Sued in the Chain of Distribution?

In a products liability lawsuit, it’s often possible that the cause of injury may be linked to one or more parties in the chain of distribution.  These can include the product’s:

  • Manufacturer:  This is the party responsible for creating, designing, and manufacturing the product.  In many cases, the manufacturer can be held liable if the product was defective when it left the manufacturing yard.  Manufacturers can also be liable for design defects, wherein the product’s design presents hazards to consumers.
  • Retailer:  The retailer is usually the store owner where you bought the product.  They may be held liable if they knowingly sold a defective product, or failed to remove recalled items from their inventory.  Note that you don’t always have to be the actual buyer, or even the actual user of the product to hold a retailer liable.
  • Distributor/wholesaler:  In between the manufacturer and the retailer, the product may often exchange hands through a number of “middlemen”.  For example, a product may be shipped from a wholesaler to a warehouse for storage.  The warehouse might then hire a distribution company to ship the product to the retailer.  All these different parties might be held liable in some way if they contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries.

Thus, it’s possible for more than one party to be named in a lawsuit as the cause of the injured party’s losses.  Proving causation in such instances would be complex, and would probably require the assistance of an expert witness as well as a lawyer. 

How is Liability Divided if Different Parties are Responsible?

The division of liability in a personal injury claim or a defective products claim will depend on the laws of the state where the injury occurred.   For example, some states allow each individual defendant to pay only that percentage of damages for which they are liable.  Suppose that there are two defendants, one of whom is 75% liable, while the other is only 25% liable.  The first defendant would have to pay 75%, while the other would pay only 25%.

In other states, it may be up to all the collective defendants to determine how much each will pay, irrespective of their individual liability.  Regardless of the way liability is divided, it shouldn’t affect the overall amount that the injured party receives- they will receive their full compensation, but it’s just a matter of how much each dependant will pay.

Do I Need a Lawyer if I Have Issues With a Defective Products Claim?

The chain of distribution in a defective products claim is a very important aspect in a lawsuit.  It may be difficult to determine exactly which parties in the chain are responsible for a defective product.  Thus, you may wish to contact a personal injury lawyer in your area if you have suffered an injury from a defective product.  Your lawyer can help trace which party is liable for your losses.  

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 05-21-2018 06:45 PM PDT

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