When a consumer is injured by a product that is defective, that consumer may file a lawsuit on the grounds of product liability. The law of product liability consists of rules that establish who is responsible for an injury, and when a plaintiff has a valid claim.

Generally, any manufacturers as well as any sellers down the distribution chain (i.e., distributors, wholesalers, and retailers) can be held legally responsible for a defective product causing injury.

The law recognizes two kinds of products liability claims: claims based on the defective design and claims based on defective manufacture. The law allows a potential plaintiff to recover damages.

What are the Elements of a Products Liability Claim?

A consumer in a products liability case must prove the following:

  • A product has been sold in the marketplace to someone;
  • A seller or manufacturer was under an obligation to sell or manufacture that product so as to meet the ordinary expectation of consumers
  • The product contains a design defect or a manufacturing defect;
  • The defect in the product caused the product to be unreasonably dangerous;
  • It is foreseeable (predictable) that a consumer could have been injured by the defect; and
  • The injury caused a consumer to sustain damages.

What is a Design Defect?

A design defect is a defect in the way a product is made. The defect in the design renders the product inherently unsafe. This kind of defect exists when they were planning the item and before the product is manufactured. An example can be a child car seat that does not properly seat-belt the child because of a flaw in the product design or a clothing dresser that falls over too easily.

What is a Manufacturing Defect?

A manufacturing defect is a defect that results from how the product is put together or assembled. Before and up to the point of assembly, there is nothing wrong with the product. However, during assembly, the product becomes defective, either due to some mistake or incorrect assembly, rendering it unsafe.

How Can I File a Lawsuit on the Grounds of Product Liability?

State laws permit multiple theories of recovery for an injury caused by a defective product. A “theory of recovery” is the concept that a person can use to show their reason to file a lawsuit. There are two product liability theories of recovery: the negligence theory of recovery and the strict liability theory of recovery.

What is the egligence Theory of Recovery?

The negligence theory of recovery requires that the defendant manufacturer, distributor, or seller, owed the injured consumer a duty to make, distribute, or sell a product free from defects. 

The consumer must then show that the defendant breached that duty, and that, as a result, the plaintiff sustained an injury that is able to be remedied or made better with damages. Damages include expenses that can be measured in terms of dollars, such as medical and hospital expenses.

Are there Defenses to a Negligence Claim for Product Liability?

A defendant may show that a factor other than negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Here, a defendant must prove the manner of injury could not have been foreseen, and therefore, could not have been prevented by safer manufacture or design.

For example, a skydiver was injured due to the parachute not opening quickly enough. The parachute manufacturer shows that they took all of the necessary precautions and that, based on the industry standard, they have met all of their precautions that they could have foreseen. What they could not have foreseen was that the skydiver was going to use the parachute at a lower altitude than allowed by the manufacturer.

What is the Strict Liability Theory of Recovery?

Requiring a consumer to prove precisely how a product manufacturer was negligent in product design can be overly burdensome or impossible. Therefore, the law may allow a plaintiff, to file a lawsuit under a theory of strict liability.

Under this theory, a plaintiff need not show negligence. Under strict liability, it does not matter how carefully the product was made; the defendant can be held liable regardless. To prevail against a manufacturer, the plaintiff must show:

  • The manufacturer sold the product;
  • The consumer used it in a foreseeable (intended) way;
  • The product did not substantially change from the condition in which it was first sold; and
  • A defect in the product caused an injury, resulting in damages.

To prevail against a non-manufacturer (i.e., seller, or renter), the plaintiff need not show that the seller acted negligently in allowing the product to be sold in a defective condition. A plaintiff can prevail just by showing the plaintiff purchased the product, and that product use caused injury because of a defect.

There is, however, a limitation as to whom a plaintiff may sue under strict liability. Plaintiff can only recover against those sellers and renters who regularly sell the kind of product that caused the injury. For example, they can sue a seller who operates a car lot but will face more challenges if they try to sue a seller who is trying to sell one car and they do not do it regularly.

Are there Defenses to a Strict Liability Claim?

A manufacturer or seller can defend against a strict liability claim by showing a plaintiff was aware of the defect before the injury, and yet kept using the product. A seller may also defeat a strict liability claim by showing that:

  • The dangers of a product (a firearm is a common example) are known to the public; 
  • The dangers are inherent (the product cannot be rendered “safe”); and 
  • The manufacturer or seller clearly warned of the danger.

If a defendant makes this showing, the defendant may defeat a strict liability claim.

Do I Need the Help of a Lawyer for a Products Liability Claim?

If you have been injured after using a product, you should consult a defective products lawyer near you. An experienced personal injury attorney near you can evaluate the facts of your case, and explain your rights and options. The personal injury lawyer can also represent you in court.