Product liability is the set of legal statutes (i.e., written laws) that hold a manufacturer, wholesaler, or seller of a product accountable for defective or falsely advertised products in the stream of commerce. Under product liability statutes, any party responsible for any part of the manufacture or sale of a defective product may be held liable for injuries resulting from that defective product’s use.
For example, when manufacturing a consumable food product containing multiple ingredients, numerous parties may be involved in the manufacture, distribution, and sale of the food product. One manufacturer may create one single ingredient, while another may create another combination of ingredients.
Then the individually manufactured ingredients would be brought together and assembled by another company to make the final consumable product. Next, after the final product is completed, one party will then be in charge of distributing that completed consumable product to wholesalers, who will then sell the final product to stores. The stores will then, in turn, sell the product to a consumer for consumption.
Continuing the above example, if a completed food product is defective, then any of the following parties may be held liable for any injuries resulting from the defect:
- The manufacturer that cooked or combined all of the ingredients;
- The wholesaler that received the completed consumable product and sold the product to the distributor;
- The store that sold the defective food product to the consumer; or
- The manufacturer of the completed consumable product’s specific ingredient was found to be defective.
Once again, product liability law has its own distinct statutes under the umbrella of civil law. Product liability laws will differ from typical personal injury civil lawsuits. This is largely because product liability laws are designed to protect and compensate consumers for their injuries while also serving as a deterrent to manufacturers by punishing those responsible for defective goods in the stream of commerce.
In addition to defective products, product liability laws have expanded to cover false advertisement forms on products or product labels. In short, false advertising occurs when a product manufacturer conveys incorrect or misleading information about that product to a consumer. Businesses or manufacturers who disclose false information that harms a consumer or customer can then be held liable for the false advertisement on the product or product label. However, the false information conveyed to the consumer has to be directly related to the product.
What Are The Different Types Of Product Liability Claims?
Product liability claims are typically brought under the legal theory of negligence, breach of warranty, or strict liability. Strict liability is the most commonly used legal theory utilized by plaintiffs (i.e., injured parties) in product liability cases.
The three legal theories that product liability claims are outlined below:
- Negligence: In a negligence claim, the defendant (i.e., the manufacturer, distributor, or seller) owes the plaintiff (i.e., the party that purchased the product and was harmed) a duty of care to prevent unreasonable risks of harm and injuries when using their product.
- If that duty of care is then breached by the defendant, resulting in harm to a user of their product, the defendant may then be held liable for the resulting damages. In the case of false advertisement, the product should be able to perform or be consumed as advertised;
- Strict Liability: In a strict liability claim, the plaintiff/consumer does not need to prove the negligent or reckless behavior of the defendant. Instead, if the product was defective or contained a false advertisement and caused harm to the plaintiff, then liability against the defendant will automatically exist; and
- Breach of Warranty: A warranty is a type of guarantee a seller makes of goods. A warranty may either be an express warranty or an implied warranty.
- An express warranty is created by overt statements or actions by the seller of the goods. For example, if a seller makes an oral or written promise about how a product functions or the benefits of a product, then the product must conform to that specific function or result in said benefits.
- Civil lawsuits for plaintiffs harmed by false or misleading product labels are often brought under the theory of breach of warranty;
- An implied warranty is any warranty that is created by law. Implied warranties apply to products regardless of whether the seller made any statements or promises. The most common implied warranties are the implied warranty of merchantability and fitness for a particular use.
What Is the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act?
The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (“FPLA”) of 1967 is a piece of legislation that directs the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) and the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) to issue regulations that require all consumer commodities to be labeled. According to the FPLA, the labels of products must include the following information on every label:
- The net contents of the product, including the total amount of the product, the total amount of servings or uses, etc.;
- The identity of the commodity; and
- A statement of personal responsibility which includes the name and place of the business that manufactured the product, packed the product, and distributed the product.
It is important to note that the FPLA also authorized additional regulations to prevent consumer deception. The Act expressly prohibits and makes it unlawful for any person engaged in the packaging or labeling of any consumer commodity for distribution in commerce to distribute any such commodity, if the commodity is contained in a package, or if there is affixed to that commodity a label, which does not conform to the provisions of the FPLA.
Why Does the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act Exist?
The FPLA was enacted to facilitate value comparisons and to prevent unfair or deceptive packaging and labeling of consumer commodities. Once again, the FPLA is administered by the FDA concerning foods, drugs, cosmetics, and medical devices. The FTC then administers the FPLA regarding other consumer commodities consumed in the standard household.
Most regulatory systems for food packaging and labeling include general safety criteria. These requirements under the FPLA are meant to maintain the safety and integrity of the food included in food packages.
In large part, due to the FPLA and other food packaging laws, customers can learn about the components of the food or product they are consuming or using thanks to the list of ingredients present on the product’s label. This information gives the consumer the ability to determine whether the product is healthy for them to eat. The printed information is also crucial in disclosing the product’s ingredients, which is especially important for individuals with an allergy to one or more of the ingredients present, such as a tree nut allergy.
Are There Exemptions to the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act?
Yes, there are certain exceptions to the FPLA, including:
- The FTC’s regulations under the FPLA do not apply to persons engaged in business as a wholesale or retail distributor of consumer commodities except to the extent that such persons:
- Are engaged in the packaging or labeling of such commodities, or
- Prescribe or specify how such commodities are packaged or labeled.
- The Environmental Protection Agency, not the FPLA, is the agency that regulates insecticides, fungicides, and rodenticides. As such, those products are exempt under the FPLA; and
- Some products do not fall under the FPLA, including automotive products, greeting cards, souvenirs, tools, and toys.
It is important to note that every state also has laws regarding packaging and labeling regulations. Because state laws can still be enforced, even if a product is exempt from the FPLA, almost every product is still required to bear basic information regarding the product’s identity, the responsible party for the creation of the product, and the quantity of the product.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act?
If you have been deceived or misled by a product’s packaging, you should consult with an experienced consumer lawyer.
An experienced and local consumer lawyer will have a working knowledge of both federal and state product packaging and labeling requirements and can initiate a civil lawsuit on your behalf if you have been misled or harmed. Additionally, an attorney can also represent you in court, as necessary.