Globally, falls are a major public health problem. An estimated 684 000 fatal falls occur each year, making it the second leading cause of unintentional injury death, after road traffic injuries.
Though not fatal, approximately 37.3 million falls severe enough to require medical attention occur each year. Falls are responsible for over 38 million more years lived with disability than drowning, burns and poisoning combined.
“Fall hazard” is a term used in product liability law to describe products that pose a risk of falling for the user. These are often products that involve the user sitting, standing or riding on the product, placing them high above the ground. Or, it can refer to hazards and risks that interfere with the person’s walking, running, moving, or standing.
Product liability refers to a manufacturer, retailer, or seller of a product being held liable for allowing a defective product to reach the consumer, regardless of the consumer’s own conduct. A product manufacturer can be held liable for placing a defective product into the stream of commerce. All parties involved in the distribution chain may be found guilty of product liability (manufacturer, distributor, seller).
What are Some Injuries Associated with Fall Hazards?
Products that create fall hazards can pose risks of serious injury, such as:
- Head and neck injuries
- Back and spine injuries
- Injuries to joints
- Broken bones
- Intracranial bleeding
- Stretched tendons, torn ligaments, and pulled muscles
- Soft tissue damage
In some cases, several people can be injured from a fall hazard issue. An example of this is where a bench or row of chairs collapses.
What are Some Products Commonly Associated with Fall Hazards?
Certain products are more associated with fall hazards than others. As mentioned, these typically include products that involve sitting, riding, or elevation:
Thus, many different types of products can involve fall hazards. Fall hazards can also result from products that have defects with supporting structures, pegs, stability mechanisms, and other aspects of the product.
It is also worth noting that the term “fall hazard” as used in product liability cases doesn’t usually include products that fall onto a person (such as in a furniture tip-over case). Instead, the term involves cases where a product is supporting the weight of a person, and then breaks or falls, causing the person to fall.
What Makes a Product Defective?
A defective product causes injury when it has been designed, manufactured, or marketed defectively. The following is a list of types of product defects:
- Design Defects: These are present from the onset, before the product is manufactured. A company can be held liable for a design defect when a foreseeable risk was present by the way the product was planned to be made. An example of this would be a wooden ladder designed to be made with wood that is not appropriate for a ladder. Perhaps the rungs then break if bearing a load of more than 250 pounds.
- Manufacturing Defects: This is a product defect that occurs during the course of the manufacturing or assembly process. It could result from an intentional or unintentional mistake, and it causes the product to be more dangerous than what the company and the consumer expected.
- An example would be if the ladder was designed with the proper wood, but the foreman accepted batches of an inferior wood. It doesn’t matter whether the foreman knew it was a different wood and went ahead and used it, or if the foreman failed to check whether it was the proper wood. Generally speaking, design defects are intentional and manufacturing defects arise from unintentional flaws that occur when the product is made.
- Marketing Defects: Marketing defects result from a lack of sufficient instructions or warnings about the use of the product. These are flaws in the way the product is marketed to the consumer, such as improper labeling and inadequate safety warnings. Marketing defects are most commonly associated with a company’s failure to warn consumers about the proper way to use a product, or a hazard associated with the use of the product.
What Do You Have to Prove in a Defective Product Liability Lawsuit?
In order to successfully recover for injuries caused by a defective product, the injured party must meet the three conditions:
- The product had an unreasonably dangerous defect
- This defect cause an injury while the product was being used in its intended way
- The product was not changed in any substantial way from how it was originally sold
Some factors that may limit the amount of recovery include:
- Knowing about the defect before using the product. If you decided to use the product despite being aware of its defect, the court may limit your recovery
- Your state’s statute of limitations, meaning that you did not bring your claim during the allowed time
- Mishandling the product and/or ignoring warnings, which ultimately led to the product breaking or becoming defective
Any party to the product’s distribution chain may be held liable for product defect. Some examples of who could be held liable include:
- The product’s manufacturer
- The party that is responsible for assembling or installing the product
- The manufacturer of the component parts
- The wholesaler
- The retailer that sold the particular product to the consumer
What is Strict Liability?
Strict liability is a legal theory a plaintiff may use to win a fall injury product liability case.
Strict liability is a legal doctrine that holds a party responsible for their actions or products, without the plaintiff having to prove negligence or fault. When someone partakes in ultrahazardous activities such as keeping wild animals, using explosives, or making defective products, then they may be held liable if someone is injured.
The plaintiff has to show that the product was defective and that the defendant should have foreseen that someone could be harmed by it.
What Kinds of Recovery Can be Obtained?
There are three types of damages awarded in product liability cases: damages paid for economic losses; damages paid for non-economic losses; and punitive damages:
- Economic losses include medical expenses (hospitals, doctors, pharmacies, physical therapists, etc.); loss of wages due to the inability to work; costs associated with becoming disabled (for example, the purchase of assistive devices, ongoing medical expenses and ongoing loss of income), and property loss.
- Non-economic losses are things such as awards for pain and suffering.
- Punitive damages are awards made to punish the defendant. Punitive damages are rarely awarded, but if the defendant’s behavior was egregious, the court can make a monetary award large enough to hurt the defendant. Punitive damages can be many times the amount awarded for other losses.
A defendant can also be required to issue a product recall and to stop manufacturing the product.
Should I Hire a Lawyer for Assistance with a Fall Hazard Lawsuit?
Products that create fall hazards can pose significant risks and injuries to consumers. You may need to hire a defective product lawyer in your area if you need assistance with a product liability claim.
Your attorney can provide you with legal research and guidance for your claim. Also, if you need to file with the court, your attorney can provide representation for you as well.