In some instances, flawed, imperfect, or defective products are released into the marketplace and purchased and used by the public. One of the many ways a product may be flawed is having a design defect.

A design defect means that a product was manufactured correctly but includes some issue in the design of the product which makes it dangerous to consumers. Because a design defect is a flaw in the way a product is designed, the defect will generally affect the entire product line, not just one particular item.

For example, a design defect may cause a vehicle to be top-heavy, making it prone to flipping over when it turns a sharp corner. All of the vehicles of that particular model will be affected by that design defect, not just one single vehicle.

A design defect often serves as the basis for a product liability or defective product lawsuit. This is especially true in cases where an individual is injured as a result of a defective design.

What are Some Examples of Design Defects?

There are several common examples of design defects, which may include:

  • Structurally unstable products, such as tables which are designed to have unequal leg lengths which causes the table to be unstable or unsafe;
  • A product that is unduly flammable or prone to melting, especially if heat is an essential part of its function, such as electric blankets which catch fire;
  • A poorly designed mechanism for containing toxic or dangerous substances and liquids;
  • Products that are dangerous for children while being intended for use by children, such as toys which include choking hazards; and
  • Mechanical defects, which are common in motor vehicles.

There are certain design defects which can be remedied by the use of a warning label which warns the public regarding the potential hazards of using the product. Some products, however, may still cause injury even with a proper warning label.

In addition, there may be a design defect that is not dangerous, but it still interferes with the consumer’s use or enjoyment of that product. For example, a poorly designed window which obscures visibility may be the subject of a defective product claim.

What Do I Need to Prove for a Design Defect Claim?

An individual who suffers injury or financial loss due to a design defect in a product may be able to recover damages. There are certain elements a plaintiff must show for their product liability claim to be successful, including:

  • The manufacturer designed the product as intended;
  • The design of the product is dangerous for its intended use;
  • An alternative design exists which would have made the product much safer for consumers;
  • The design modification or alternative design would allow the product to perform just as well or in the same manner for which it was intended;
  • The cost of making that existing safer design was not cost-prohibitive. In other words, it did not cost too much for the manufacturer to produce;
  • The plaintiff was using the product as it was intended; and
  • The plaintiff suffered a loss or was injured when using the product as it was intended.

In claims for compensation for injuries caused by a defective design, a plaintiff must be able to show that their injuries were caused by the product and the specific defect in that product. It is not sufficient for the plaintiff to claim that the injury occured while they were using the product.

Not only must the plaintiff’s injury be tied to the defect in the product, the plaintiff must have used the product in the manner in which it was intended to be used. It is important to note that this does not mean that the plaintiff is required to have used the product in the exact manner in which it was specified by the manufacturer.

If a manufacturer could have reasonably expected or predicted that an individual would use their product in the same way that the plaintiff used it, a manufacturer may still be liable for the injuries the plaintiff sustained.

For example, if a plaintiff purchased a pair of gardening shears and suffered injuries while using them to cut rope, the manufacturer may be held liable because they could reasonably expect that a consumer would use their gardening shears to cut items other than plants.

What are Design Defect Accident Statistics?

Products introduced into the market are supposed to be designed to be safe for both their intended use and other foreseeable uses. Many products, however, are designed with inherent defects which pose a threat to consumer safety.

Although a design defect may appear to be harmless, many design defects can lead to accidents and injuries, which may include:

  • Choking;
  • Burning; and
  • Death.

Every year, an average of 5 to 10% of personal injury liability lawsuits are filed based on defective products and their associated hazards. These lawsuits are commonly based on the fact that the user was injured or killed when using the product as reasonably expected.

There have also been major recalls due to design defects, including:

  • 685 types of products were recalled in the United States in 2013 because of design defects;
  • 867,795 Chrysler vehicles were recalled because the brakes failed to work properly after minor corrosion;
  • 9 million Toyota vehicles were required to be recalled after a defectively designed gas pedal would become jammed in a downward position, leading to fatal acceleration;
  • Bumbo recently recalled a popular infant seat because the design did not include a safety belt, and this design defect resulted in 21 infant skull fractures; and
  • More than 485,000 high chairs were recalled in 2014 due to a design defect.

There are numerous accident statistics which design defects, including:

  • 4 fatal airplane accidents were caused by design defects in the 1900s;
  • In 2012, 11 children under the age of 12 died as a result of design defects in toys;
  • In 2012, approximately 265,000 injuries resulting from design defects were treated in American emergency rooms; and
  • In 2001, a design defect in GM vehicles which involved ignition switches caused at least 31 car crashes according to an investigation by Congress.

One more recent example of a design defect is that of the Boeing 737 Max and the associated accidents which occurred as a result of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) which was installed on the planes without informing or training pilots of the existence of the system. There were two fatal airplane crashes which occurred as a result of this system, including:

  • A Lion Air flight on October 28, 2018; and
  • An Ethiopian Airlines flight on March 10, 2019.

These two crashes caused the death of 346 individuals. As a result of these crashes, the Boeing 737 was grounded, causing substantial financial losses to airline companies.

These accidents may also include many other legal claims in addition to design defects. Slowly, these airlines are returning to the skies but remain grounded in some countries, including China.

Should I Seek Legal Help for a Design Defect?

If you have suffered an injury as a result of a design defect, it is essential to contact a personal injury lawyer. Your attorney can review your case, determine if you have a claim for a design defect, and help you throughout the lawsuit process.

It is important to note that many states have a statute of limitations on these types of claims. This means that there is a time limit after which you will not be permitted to file your claim to recover damages. Because of this, it is essential to seek the assistance of an attorney as soon as possible.