A design defect is a flaw in a product regarding the way it was designed. Design defects often serve as the basis for a products liability or defective products lawsuit. This type of defect indicates that the entire batch of production for that product may be flawed. A plaintiff can often recover damages if a design defect in a product causes them injury or financial loss.
A manufacturer’s liability for a design defect occurs when the design of the product causes a foreseeable risk of injury when the product was manufactured as intended and used for its intended purpose. If a plaintiff wants to prove that there is a defect in design, they must show:
- The manufacturer designed the product as intended
- The design of the product is dangerous for its intended use
- There was an alternative design that would have made the product much safer
- The cost of making a safer design would not cost too much
- With the safer modification, the product would have performed in the same manner for which it was intended to perform.
- The plaintiff was injured or suffered loss when using the product as it was intended
In other words, the plaintiff must prove that making a safer product was available and would not have been expensive to make and the alternative design of the product would have performed in the same manner as the manufacturer intended for it to perform.
Some common examples of design defects may include:
- Structurally unstable products, such as a table is designed to have unequal leg lengths, causing the table to be unstable or unsafe as a result
- The product is dangerous to children while being intended for children, such as toys that contain choking hazards
- Products that are unduly flammable or prone to melting (especially if heat is an essential component of its function)
- Poorly designed mechanisms for containing toxic or dangerous substances and liquids
- Mechanical defects, which are common in cars and other vehicles
A common design defect is where a structure was not designed to be strong enough to support the weight that it is intended to support, such with a weak or shaky ladder. This may be the result of poor, inadequate lab testing, or the result of carelessness.
Some design defects can be resolved through the use of warning labels, but even with sufficient warning labels, some products can cause injury due to the defects. Also, some design defects may not be dangerous, but can still interfere with the consumer’s usage or enjoyment. For instance, a poorly designed window that interferes with visibility may be the subject of a products liability lawsuit.
Besides design defects, there are two other types of defects that can form the basis of a personal injury lawsuit against a manufacturer. These are warning label defects and manufacturing defects.
Warning Label Defects: Warning label defects or warning defects may occur if the manufacturer of the product failed to use proper warning labels or failed to include warnings for the product that give notice to the user of the product about possible risks and dangers that are associated with the product upon use. Warning labels usually must be included in products that can cause harm if used improperly or are dangerous to use (e.g.: products that have high electricity, sharp edges, heated surfaces, or toxic chemicals).
Manufacturing Defect: A manufacturing defect may occur when a product is manufactured in the wrong way and the product becomes dangerous, unsafe, and unfit for the intended use. Manufacturing defects are different from design defects because under the manufacturing defect theory, not all of the products are manufactured in a way that makes the product dangerous, but rather one product that was manufactured in a faulty manner. An example of this is where the chain on a bicycle is installed improperly, making it dangerous for a person to ride.
Design defects can be the most costly to fix for manufacturers, in order for them to avoid liability in the future. They will likely have to go back and redo the entire design of the product. On the other hand, warning label defects and manufacturing defects typically involve isolated incidents that can be easily remedied.
If the plaintiff wants to be successful in bringing a defective design claim against the manufacturer under strict liability theory, the plaintiff must prove that the injury caused by the product was specifically caused by the defect of the product. The plaintiff would not be successful in the claim if he or she only argues that they were injured while using the product.
If there was evidence that the plaintiff used the product in a manner that was not intended for use or was not forseeable by the manufacturer, then the manufacturer could argue that the plaintiff was injured under his or her own terms and the defective design of the product was not the main cause of the plaintiff’s injury.
This does not mean that the plaintiff must have used the product in the same exact manner as the manufacturer’s specifications. If the manufacturer could reasonably expect or predict that a user of the product would use the product in the way the plaintiff used it, then the manufacturer would still be liable for the plaintiff’s injury. For example, if the plaintiff bought a cutting tool specifically made for cutting plants, but the plaintiff was injured while using the tool cutting a rope, the manufacturer would still be liable since the manufacturer should reasonably expect that users of the product might use the cutting tool to cut other things other than plants
Design defect lawsuits can often be complicated and typically require the expert opinion of a lawyer. You may wish to hire a qualified personal injury lawyer in your area if you need assistance in filing a design defect lawsuit. Your attorney can provide you with the legal advice necessary to help you obtain the appropriate legal remedy, such as a damages award for your losses.