Product liability involves dangerous or defective products that cause injuries to thousands of individuals every year. Personal injury laws assist individuals in receiving compensation for their injuries due to these defective products.
Product liability refers to when a manufacturer, seller, or retailer of a product is held liable for placing the defective product into the hands of a consumer, or allowing the defective product to enter into the stream of commerce. They can be liable whether they were negligent or not.
Any party responsible for any portion of the manufacturing process of the product may be held liable just as the seller may be held liable. An example includes the manufacture of a vehicle.
An automobile is made by numerous manufacturers. One manufacturer makes the tires, another makes the engine, another makes the gas tank, and so on. The individual pieces are then brought together and assembled to make the entire vehicle. Following assembly, the vehicle is sent to a retailer or dealer.
If the vehicle is defective, there are many parties that may be liable for any injuries caused by the vehicle, including:
- The assembling manufacturer;
- The wholesaler;
- The dealer, and
- The manufacturer of the part of the product that was found to be defective.
What are the Types of Defects that Arise in Product Liability?
There are three primary types of defects in products:
- Design defects: A product has a design defect if the design of the product is unsafe. That is, the product is unsafe before it ever enters the manufacturing process. For example, if a coffee cup is designed in such a way that the bottom melts whenever there is a hot fluid in it, it has a design defect;
- Manufacturing defects: A product has a manufacturing defect if the design of the product is good but the method of making the product is unsafe. For example, if a desk is mistakenly assembled at the factory without several screws that are necessary in the design which may cause the desk to collapse, it has a manufacturing defect; and
- Warning defects: If a product does not have sufficient instructions or warnings about how to properly use the product, and an individual is injured as a result, the product has a warning defect. For example, if an individual buys a lawn mower that does not have safety warnings about the blade, and the blade cuts them, then there is a warning defect.
Who are the Responsible Parties in Defective Product Lawsuit?
Liability for a defect in a product may be placed on any party in the chain of distribution of the product, even if that party was not the party that created the defect. So long as the party was the one who placed the defective product in the marketplace and that product was defective when it left the hands of the defendant, the defendant may be held strictly liable for the defect.
The following parties in the production and retail chain may be held liable for a defective product:
- The manufacturer of the product;
- A manufacturer of component parts of the product;
- A party that assembles or installs the product;
- The wholesaler; and
- The retail store that sold the defective product to the consumer.
In order to be liable, the party must actually use or sell the product in their regular course of business. A party will not be held liable if they are a casual seller, such as an individual selling the product at a garage sale. Or, for example, in the case of a vehicle, when an individual sells their used vehicle to another individual.
How Can I Bring a Defective Product Lawsuit?
A product liability claim is a personal injury claim which is brought by a consumer that is injured by a defective product. These claims are often very complicated. Most product liability claims fall under one of the following legal theories:
- Strict liability; and
- Breach of warranty.
There are no federal laws governing product liability. Therefore, a product liability claim must be brought under state law, which may vary significantly from state to state.
In order to prevail in a product liability claim, a plaintiff, or injured party, in a product liability claim must show the following elements:
- That the product was sold in the marketplace to consumers;
- That the seller or manufacturer was under an obligation to sell or manufacture the product in such a way that meets the ordinary expectation of consumers;
- That the product contained a design defect or a manufacturing defect;
- That the defect in the product caused it to be unreasonably dangerous;
- It was foreseeable, or reasonably predictable, that the consumer could have been injured by the defect; and
- That the injury caused a consumer, or plaintiff, to sustain damages.
The plaintiff must show that, at some point, the product was being sold in the marketplace. Previously, the only individual that could bring a product liability claim was the purchaser of the product. Now, however, an injured individual may bring a claim even if they were not the original purchaser of the product.
If a product fails to work properly or causes harm to an individual who uses it, the following parties may be liable:
- The company that designed the product;
- The company that manufactured the product; or
- The company that sold the product.
What are the Theories of Recovery in Product Liability?
Different state laws permit different theories of recovery for injuries caused by a defective product. A theory of recovery is a legal concept that an individual uses a basis for their lawsuit. There are two product liability theories of recovery, which include the negligence theory of recovery and the strict liability theory of recovery.
Under the negligence theory of recovery in product liability, a defendant, such as a manufacturer or seller, must have owed the customer a duty to make, distribute, or sell a product that is free from defects. The plaintiff must show that the defendant breached this duty and, as a result, they sustained an injury.
The plaintiff may be able to seek compensation for their injuries, called damages. Damages are awarded to the plaintiff in order to cover expenses that can be measured, such as medical expenses and lost wages.
Under the strict liability theory of recovery, a plaintiff is not required to show negligence. It does not matter how carefully the product was manufactured, a defendant may still be held liable. In order to prevail against a manufacturer, the plaintiff must show:
- The manufacturer did sell the product;
- The consumer used the product in a foreseeable, or intended, way;
- The product was not substantially changed from the condition in which it was sold; and
- A defect in the product caused the plaintiff’s injury, which resulted in damages.
What Recovery is Available in a Product Liability Claim?
In some cases, if the product is defective, an individual may be able to recover the cost to replace the product. In many cases, an individual can contact the manufacturer directly and obtain a replacement.
If the defective product also caused the individual to sustain an injury, they may be able to seek compensation, or damages. An individual may seek compensation for their:
- Medical bills and costs associated with the injury;
- Missed work and the resulting lost wages;
- Pain and suffering;
- Loss of consortium, or lost time and companionship with their spouse; and
- Punitive damages, which may be sought in cases when the defendant’s actions were especially harmful or willfully negligent.
Do I Need an Attorney to Handle My Product Liability Case?
Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an experienced liability lawyer to handle your product liability case. The laws governing product liability are extremely complex and, as previously noted, vary by state.
An attorney can review your case, determine if damages may be available for you, and represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary. Your attorney will fight to get you the compensation you deserve for your injuries.