Product liability refers to a manufacturer, retailer, or seller of a product being held liable for allowing a defective product to reach the consumer, regardless of the consumer’s own negligence. Laws regarding product liability determine who is responsible for defective or dangerous products.
An example of this would be a product manufacturer being held liable for placing a defective product into the stream of commerce. However, all parties involved in the distribution chain may be found guilty of product liability.
State laws regarding product liability claims tend to vary. There is a set of commercial statutes in each state that are modeled after the Uniform Commercial Code, containing warranty rules which affect product liability.
A defective product can be defined as any product that is unreasonably dangerous when being used for its intended purpose, without any alterations or interference. To be more specific, a defective product is a product that causes injury to a person to due either a design defect, a manufacturing defect, or a marketing defect. Some of the most common examples of defective products include food items, medical devices, and children’s toys.
In order to prove product liability, a plaintiff needs to prove the following:
- The product was defective upon being manufactured;
- The product’s manufacturer, seller, or distributor intended for the product to reach the plaintiff without any changes being made through the process; and
- The plaintiff and/or their property was injured in some way by the product.
What Makes a Product Defective?
As previously mentioned, a defective product causes injury when it has been designed, manufactured, or marketed defectively. The following is a list of product defects:
- Design Defects: These are present from the beginning, even before the product is actually manufactured. A company can become liable for a design defect when a foreseeable risk was present during manufacturing, and the company chose to continue creating the unsafe product (as in the case of defective 3M earplugs).
- An example of this would be a coffee cup designed in such a way that the bottom of the cup melts whenever it contains hot fluid. Many states require that the plaintiff show that the risk could have been reasonably reduced or avoided by an alternative design. This means that the manufacturer could have made the changes at an economically feasible cost with the product being virtually the same as the unsafe product. Products that have design defects are inherently unsafe and are only fixed by altering the original design;
- Manufacturer Defects: This is a product defect that occurs over the course of the manufacturing or assembly process. This could result from an unintentional mistake and cause the product to be more dangerous than what the company and the consumer expected. The biggest difference between design defects and manufacturer defects is that design defects are intentional, while manufacturer defects are unintentional flaws that occur when the product is made.
- Manufacturer defects are generally easier to fix, as the defect may be remedied by simply changing a material or the assembly process. The most common examples of manufacturing defects are faulty screws, contaminated medications and food products, and faulty mechanisms; and
- Marketing Defects: Marketing defects result from a lack of sufficient instructions or warnings about its use. These are flaws in the way the product is marketed to the consumer, such as improper labeling and inadequate safety warnings. Marketing defects are most commonly associated with a company’s failure to warn consumers about the proper way to use a product, or a hazard associated with the use of the product. Additionally, this type of defect most commonly results from injuries sustained from a product.
In order to prove to the court that the product was defective, the plaintiff will need to prove one of the above legal theories in addition to proving that the defect made the product unreasonably dangerous to use.
What Should I Know About a Defective Product Lawsuit?
In order to successfully recover for injuries caused by a defective product, the injured party must meet the three conditions:
- The product had an unreasonably dangerous defect;
- This defect cause an injury while the product was being used in its intended way; and
- The product was not changed in any substantial way from how it was originally sold.
Some of what may limit the amount of recovery can include:
- Knowing about the defect before using the product; meaning, if you decided to use the product despite being aware of its defect, the court may limit your recovery;
- Your state’s statute of limitations, meaning that you did not bring your claim during the allowed time; or
- Mishandling the product and ignoring warnings and/or instructions, which ultimately lead to the product breaking or being defective.
Some defects can be created due to mishandling or tampering with an item. Be prepared to admit or deny any tampering that could have rendered the product dangerous and defective, as this is an important factor when determining liability.
Any party to the product’s distribution chain may be held liable for product defect. However, this was not always the case. Previously, there had to be some type of contractual relationship between the product’s supplier and the injured party. Presently, any reasonably foreseeable person who could be injured by a defective product may recover for their injuries. Some examples of who could be held liable include:
- The product’s manufacturer;
- The party that is responsible for assembling or installing the product;
- The manufacturer of the component parts;
- The wholesaler; or
- The retailer that sold the particular product to the consumer.
Do I Need an Attorney for a Defective Product Lawsuit?
Although it is not a requirement, it is in your best interests to consult with a skilled and knowledgeable products and services lawyer if you have been injured because of a defective product.
An experienced personal injury attorney will be aware of your state’s laws regarding product liability, as well as its statute of limitations regarding the timeframe in which you may bring a defective product suit. Additionally, they will help protect your rights, as well as represent you in court as needed.