Sometimes, flawed products that are potentially dangerous are released to the consumer. The product might have been manufactured incorrectly and the mistake makes the product more likely to cause injury.
One of the ways products can be flawed is through what is called a design defect. A design defect means that there is something in the way the product was designed that makes it dangerous to consumers. Since the defect is a flaw in the overall design, the defect usually affects the entire product line, not just one unit.
For example, a design defect may mean that a car tire can come off while driving, making the car dangerous to use. The design defect will affect all of the automobiles in this model, not just one singular example of the product.
Design defects can be expensive for manufacturers to fix in order to avoid future liability, especially since a problem in the product’s design means that the entire run or batch of the product is defective. In many cases, the best way (or only way) to fix the problem is to go back and redesign the product from scratch.
Design defects often serve as the basis for product liability or defective product lawsuits, especially if someone is injured as a result of the defective design.
What Are Some Examples of Design Defects?
Examples of design defects include:
- Power tools designed without a safety component to protect the user’s hands;
- Structurally unstable products, such as dressers that are top-heavy, which can cause the dressers to be unstable and, therefore, unsafe;
- Poorly designed methods for containing toxic or dangerous substances and liquids contained within the product;
- Products that are dangerous for children while being intended for use by children (such as toys that include choking hazards or cribs with bars that are not set properly apart);
- Mechanical defects, which are common in cars, trucks, boats, and other motor vehicles;
- Products that are flammable, prone to melting, or if heat is an essential part of the product’s purpose, like a toaster that catches fire. Other products that have suffered from fire risk are electronic devices such as cell phones.
Under federal law, if a product poses a danger that is not apparent to consumers, the manufacturer is required to place a warning label on the product. Some design defects may be remedied by warning labels, advising the public about the potential hazards of using the product. However, some products can still cause injury even with proper warning labels, and some warning labels are poorly designed and inadequate to warn the public of the risk.
Some design defects may not be dangerous but still interfere with the consumer’s usage or enjoyment of the product. For example, a poorly designed car window that obscures visibility may still be the subject of a product liability claim, even if it is not dangerous.
What Are Some Other Types of Defects?
Design defects are not the only types of defects that can result in product liability claims. Lawsuits can also involve the following:
Defective Manufacturing: A claim of defective manufacturing involves a product that is properly designed, but something happens during the manufacturing process to cause a flaw in the individual product or in a set of products. As a result, the product becomes dangerous and unsafe for its intended use.
For example, a can of soda accidentally contaminated by metal shavings from factory machinery or a moped designed to have brake pads but unintentionally manufactured without them would be considered cases of defective manufacturing.
Warning Label Defects and Insufficient Warnings: Federal law says that manufacturers have the duty to provide warnings against dangers that an ordinary user could not anticipate. Warnings must be in the form of a label that describes the danger(s). There are three types of warning label defects:
- Failure to warn. No warning at all is provided.
- Failure to give an adequate, sufficient warning. There is a warning, but it is not sufficient to protect a consumer from the foreseeable risks of harm posed by the product, and the inadequacy of the warning makes the product unreasonably unsafe.
- Failure to adequately instruct. In addition to providing a warning label describing possible dangers, manufacturers must provide instructions on the safe use or operation of the product. Instructions must tell a user how to operate the product correctly.
Warning labels must be included on products that can cause injury if they are used improperly or if the product is dangerous to use (such as products that have sharp edges, hot surfaces, electricity, or toxic chemicals). For example, chainsaws and space heaters include warning labels to warn the public about the possibility of injury if they are used improperly.
What Do I Need to Prove for a Design Defect Claim?
A plaintiff may be able to file a lawsuit and recover damages if a design defect in a product causes them physical injury or some sort of financial loss. To prove their case in court, the plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence (better than 50/50 odds) that:
- The manufacturer designed the product.
- The product’s design is dangerous.
- There was an alternative design that would have made the product safer for consumers.
- The alternative design would have allowed the product to perform just as well as the current design.
- The cost of making the safer design was not cost-prohibitive (it didn’t cost too much for the manufacturer to produce).
- The plaintiff was using the product as it was intended, which does not necessarily mean that the plaintiff must have used the product in the exact way the manufacturer specified. If the manufacturer could reasonably expect or predict that a person would use the product the same way the plaintiff used it, then the manufacturer can still be liable for the plaintiff’s injury.
- For example, suppose the plaintiff bought a pair of gardening shears and was injured by the shears while using them to cut rope. In that case, the manufacturer can still be held liable since the manufacturer could reasonably expect that consumers might use the gardening shears to cut things other than plants.
- The design defect was the cause of the plaintiff’s injury or loss. The plaintiff must be able to prove that the defect in the product specifically caused the injury caused by the product. It is not enough to claim that the plaintiff happened to be injured while using the product. To determine if the design defect was, in fact, the cause of the plaintiff’s injury, courts apply the “but for” test: the injury or loss would not have occurred “but for” the defendant’s design defect.
- The plaintiff was injured or suffered some kind of physical or financial loss.
Should I Hire an Attorney to Help With a Design Defect Lawsuit?
If you have been injured by a consumer product and you believe your injury was caused by a design flaw, it is in your best interest to contact a licensed defective products lawyer. The right lawyer can advise you on the best way to proceed, write and file the necessary paperwork for you, represent you in court, and help you get the best possible outcome for your case.
Design defect lawsuits can become very complicated, and having a qualified lawyer on your side can help you navigate the legal system successfully.