Defenses to Defective Product Liability

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 What is a Product Liability Case?

Occasionally, products are sold that are more dangerous than they were meant to be. The product might have been manufactured incorrectly. For example, a toaster may have been incorrectly manufactured, and now some toasters pose electrical hazards. Once the toaster injures a person, they can become a plaintiff in a product liability case.

Generally, a defective manufactured product is a type of claim in a product liability case. A product liability lawsuit seeks to hold the manufacturer or seller of a product accountable for placing a defective product into the stream of commerce. Any party manufacturing the defective item or its components can be held liable for any injuries. The seller of the product may be held liable, too. An example of this would be a vehicle.

Numerous manufacturers often produce them: one creates the tires, another creates the engine, etc. The individual pieces are assembled, and the vehicle may go to a retailer or dealer. If the resulting vehicle is defective, some or all of the following parties may be held liable for any resulting injuries:

  • The assembling manufacturer
  • The parts manufacturer
  • The wholesaler
  • The dealer
  • The manufacturer of the piece that was found to be defective

What Does the Plaintiff Have to Prove to Win a Case?

In a product liability case, a plaintiff would need to demonstrate the following:

  • That the product was defective in some way
  • That they used the product as intended
  • That the product defect caused them to suffer some type of harm
  • That they can be compensated for the damage they endured

What Defenses Can Be Used in a Defective Product Case?

Strict liability: By far the most common form of product liability litigation, strict liability theory alleges that the defendant was making something that is so inherently dangerous that the manufacturer and others connected to the product (e.g., the seller) will be held responsible whether or not any mistake was made. In other words, if anything goes wrong and someone is hurt, the defendant (e.g., a handgun manufacturer) will be found liable automatically.

Breach of warranty: A warranty is a seller’s promise that a product sold to a buyer has a certain quality. If the product proves to be deficient in this quality as promised, the seller is legally liable for breach of warranty. Consider a table made to change a baby’s diaper. If part of the manufacturer’s warranty was that the table would be usable for its purpose and would not come apart under normal use, and then the table fell apart because the joints that held the legs to the table were not sufficiently attached, the manufacturer (and others in the stream of commerce) will be held liable for any injury that occurred to anyone using the table.

Negligence: This theory alleges that someone was careless or made a mistake, which caused the product defect.

If you are a manufacturer, a wholesaler, or a seller that is involved in a defective products liability case, it may be in your best interest to contact a local personal injury attorney to determine whether or not any of the defenses listed below apply to your case.

Some of the common defenses against a products liability claim include the following:

  • No Defect Found: A defendant can argue that some other factor caused the plaintiff’s injury other than their product. In such a case, the defendant will want to show that the product or design of the defendant’s product was not the actual cause of the plaintiff’s injury.
  • Assumption of Risk: If the injured party knew there was a danger associated with the product and voluntarily assumed the risk of the harm regardless, they would be barred from receiving damages. To prove the assumption of risk, the defendant must have evidence that demonstrates that the plaintiff knew or was aware of the risk involved and ignored it, which then ended up being the cause of the plaintiff’s injury.
  • Substantial Change Defense: If the consumer (plaintiff) made substantial changes or modifications to the product, and the change or modification led to the plaintiff’s injury, then the manufacturer could potentially be relieved from liability. This is because the cause of the injury was based on the actions done by the plaintiff.
    • However, only a plaintiff’s unexpected and unforeseeable changes to the product will relieve the manufacturer of liability. If the manufacturer could have predicted that a consumer might alter or modify the product in such a fashion, their changes would not relieve the manufacturer of liability.
  • Contributory Negligence or Comparative Fault: In states that follow the contributory negligence method, the plaintiff may be barred from receiving any damages if the plaintiff contributed to their own injuries. In states with comparative fault as a defense, if the plaintiff contributed to their injury, their damages might be reduced by the percentage of fault attributed to them. In most cases where the plaintiff is negligent, it is because the plaintiff used the product in some way that was not how it was meant to be used or the plaintiff didn’t follow the directions. Contributory and comparative fault defenses can apply in strict liability cases and negligence cases.
    • Notice the difference between the assumption of the risk and contributory or comparative negligence. When a product buyer is negligent, the plaintiff does not know that specific results were likely when the plaintiff did whatever the negligent act.
    • Assumption of the risk means that the plaintiff knew about the possibility that the product might be defective. Assumption of the risk is a defense in negligence and breach of warranty claims. Many states also allow the assumption of the risk in strict liability claims, but many do not.
  • Expiration of the Statute of Limitations: In all civil cases, states have established a statute of limitations for every type of case. “Statute of limitations” refers to a particular period in which the plaintiff can claim.
    • Usually, the time to bring an action for a defective product is limited to two years (several states make it 3 years. The range of time to file a claim runs from 1 year (Louisiana) to 11 years (North Dakota).). The precise time to file a claim will depend on the state’s statute of limitations laws and the type of injury that occurred. If the time frame has expired, a defendant can argue that the plaintiff can longer bring the claim.

The defense available in a case is very much tied to the facts. Those listed above may not work for all claims. For example, some defenses might work for a negligence claim but will not be available for a strict liability claim. To determine which type of defense applies to you, you should contact an attorney to find the best option.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Issues Involving Defective Product Liability?

If you are a distributor, manufacturer, retailer, or wholesaler who is facing a defective products liability claim based on the fact that you might have distributed, manufactured, or sold a defective product, then you should contact a defective products lawyer immediately.

A qualified personal injury attorney will be able to determine whether you have any defenses available against the defective product liability claim, can help you to protect your rights, and represent you in court if necessary.


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