A products liability claim attempts to hold the manufacturer or seller of a product accountable for allowing a defective product to enter into the stream of commerce. Any party responsible for any part of the manufacturing process could be held liable, just as any seller may also be liable.
In the production cycle, dozens of parties may be involved. If the final product turns out to be defective, the following parties may be held liable for any resulting issues:
- The designer;
- The assembling manufacturer;
- The wholesaler;
- The dealer or retailer; and
- The manufacturer of the specific piece that was found to be defective.
Defects that may result in liability can be categorized in three ways:
- Design Defects: These are defects in the initial design of the product. Regardless of how well the product is manufactured, and no matter how thoroughly a consumer is warned about the product, a defective design is inherently flawed and could lead to potential liability;
- Manufacturing Defects: This refers to when the manufacturer assembles the product in such a way that the product is rendered unsafe; and
- Defective Warnings: Some products may be subject to a products liability suit if there is an inadequate warning about the product. Defective warning products liability cases can include failure to properly instruct a consumer on how to use the product. While some products may seem a bit self-explanatory, such as how a lighter is flammable, failure to warn consumers of the dangers of a product could result in liability.
Who Could Be Held Liable for Injuries Caused By Clothing?
As was just discussed, any seller or manufacturer has a duty of reasonable care to prevent harm. What this means is that anyone involved in the manufacturing or sale of clothing owes their consumers a specific level of care and attention to reduce potential harm.
Breaching that duty of care can cause a manufacturer or retailer to be held liable under the following legal theories when an article of clothing causes injury:
It is important to note that the duty of reasonable care does not require a manufacturer or seller to:
- Determine whether dyes will cause harm;
- Test the product for latent defects;
- Refrain from offering the product for sale until it has been individually analyzed and inspected for deleterious substances; and/or
- Warn of conditions which any reasonable person should be aware of.
Liability under any of these legal theories requires proof that the product was actually defective or harmful in some way. One of the most common examples of this in terms of clothing would be flammable clothing lawsuits. Flammable clothing does not meet federal safety standards for fire and burn ratings. Some examples of clothes that may be more susceptible to catching fire than others include:
- Clothing that has been chemically treated;
- Wool clothing;
- Silk clothing;
- Most types of pajamas;
- Scarfs and other accessories that swing away from the body, or dangle; and
- Clothing made of plastic and other especially flammable materials, such as costumes and costume accessories.
Clothes that do not meet standards are most commonly subject to a product recall as an attempt to mitigate any harm caused. As previously mentioned, there are various parties that can be held liable for flammable clothing injuries. This could be the manufacturer of flammable clothing products; or, store owners who knowingly sell dangerous clothing products, or refuse to pull dangerous products from their shelves.
Flammable clothing claims can be based on the aforementioned legal theories. An example of this would be how a manufacturer might be held liable for a design defect, if the product is designed in such a way that it is especially susceptible to catching fire. Another example would be a warning defect, if the product does not provide adequate warnings regarding flame and fire risks. Warning defects are a common issue with many children’s costumes.
What Are Some Examples of Cases In Which A Seller or Manufacturer Was Held Liable for Injuries Caused by Clothing?
In one case, the manufacturer of a dress was held liable due to the fact that the wearer burst into flames while wearing it. The netting of the skirt was made with nitrocellulose, which is an ingredient found in gunpowder. The court found the manufacturer liable, even though the dress may have been set on fire by a cigarette. This was because the manufacturer knew, or should have known, that such an article of clothing would be worn to events in which large numbers of people gather and may be smoking.
In another example involving a dress, the consumer was able to recover from the seller of the dress for a skin injury resulting from wearing the dress. The seller’s sales associate offered to help the customer, and selected the dress. When the customer wore the dress, her skin broke out in a rash which was later found to be chemical dermatitis caused by a toxic substance used in coloring the dress. The coloring had not been completely oxidized; as such, the court found the seller liable for breach of an implied warranty of fitness of the dress for the purpose of being worn.
Finally, the family of a child was able to recover from the manufacturer and seller of a Gene Autry cowboy costume. The costume included flammable chaps made of pile rayon, which had not been properly treated, and caught fire. The manufacturer and seller were both found liable for failure to warn, since the costume contained no warning of the danger of contact with fire or flame.
What Are Some Defenses to Product Liability?
Defenses available will vary greatly based on individual state laws regarding product liability. Available defenses may also vary based on the type of claim filed, as well as the facts surrounding each specific case.
Some examples of commonly used defenses against a products liability claim include:
- Unforeseeable Usage: It is uncommon for a defendant to be held liable for a plaintiff’s injury, if the plaintiff has misused the product in such a way that it is unforeseeable to both the manufacturer and to the average purchaser. An example of this in the context of injuries caused by clothing would be if a person wore clothing known to be highly flammable while working with fire;
- Assumption of Risk: If the plaintiff knew of and voluntarily accepted the risks affiliated with the product, but chose to use it regardless, the defendant may use that fact as a defense;
- Substantial Changes: If a plaintiff has substantially altered or modified a product, and that alteration led to their injuries, the defendant may use that fact as a defense in order to avoid being held liable;
- Comparative Fault: Comparative fault asserts that a plaintiff is more at fault than the defendant for causing their injuries. However, this defense is only available in some states; and
- Contributory Negligence: This defense is similar to comparative fault. Contributory negligence is only available in certain states. The difference between the two is that if a defendant proves contributory negligence, then it can completely bar a plaintiff from recovering. Under comparative fault, the plaintiff may still receive a reduced damages award.
Do I Need an Attorney for Injuries Caused by Clothing?
If you have been injured by clothing due to negligence on the part of the manufacturer or seller, you should consult with a local defective products attorney. An experienced local consumer law attorney will be best suited to understanding your state’s laws regarding injuries caused by clothing, and how those laws may affect your legal options.
An attorney can assist you, regardless of whether you are the defendant or the plaintiff. Finally, an experienced attorney can also represent you in court, as needed.