A product liability claim arises when a product is found to be defective or dangerous and causes harm to the user.
The injured plaintiff typically brings the action against a defendant, who may be a distributor, wholesaler, manufacturer, or retailer involved in the product’s supply chain.
There are three main types of claims: strict product liability, negligence, and breach of express or implied warranties.
Strict Products Liability
This type of claim holds a manufacturer or seller strictly liable for any injuries caused by a defective product, regardless of whether the manufacturer or seller was negligent. To prove a strict product liability claim, the plaintiff must show that the product was defective, that the defect existed when the product left the manufacturer or seller’s control, and that the defect caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
Three types of defects can form the basis of a strict product liability claim: design defects, manufacturing defects, and warning defects.
- Design defects: These defects arise when a product’s design is inherently dangerous, and the danger cannot be eliminated by reasonable changes to the product’s manufacturing or warning labels.
- Manufacturing defects: These defects arise when a product is manufactured incorrectly, such as when a batch of medicine is contaminated during production.
- Warning defects: These defects arise when a product lacks adequate warning labels or instructions for use, and the lack of warnings or instructions causes harm to the user.
A negligence claim alleges that the manufacturer or seller was negligent in designing, manufacturing, or selling the product.
To prove a negligence claim, the plaintiff must show that the defendant had a duty to exercise reasonable care in designing, manufacturing, or selling the product, that the defendant breached that duty by failing to exercise reasonable care, and that the breach of duty caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Negligence claims can be more difficult to prove than strict product liability claims, as the plaintiff must show that the defendant was at fault for the defect.
Breach of Express or Implied Warranties
This type of claim alleges that the product was sold with a warranty (either express or implied) and did not meet the warranty terms.
An express warranty is a specific promise made by the manufacturer or seller about the quality or characteristics of the product, while an implied warranty is an unwritten guarantee that the product is fit for its intended use.
To prove a breach of a warranty claim, the plaintiff must show that the product was defective, that the defect breached the warranty terms, and that the breach of warranty caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
What are Some Defenses to Product Liability?
Defenses in product liability cases depend on the laws of the state, the type of claim filed, and the specific facts of the case, but common defenses include:
- Unforeseeable Usage: If the plaintiff misused the product in a manner that was unforeseeable by both the manufacturer and the average purchaser, the defendant may not be held liable for the injury.
- Assumption of Risk: If the plaintiff knew about the product’s risks and voluntarily accepted them, they may be barred from recovering damages.
- Substantial Changes: If the plaintiff substantially altered the product, causing the injury, the defendant may not be held liable.
- Comparative Fault: In some states, the comparative fault defense applies when the plaintiff is more at fault for their injuries than the defendant.
- Contributory Negligence: The contributory negligence defense, available in certain states, can bar a plaintiff from recovering if they contributed to their own injuries.
Here are a few additional defenses in product liability cases:
State of the Art
If the product was manufactured using the most up-to-date technology, the defendant may argue that they should not be held liable for any unknown defects during manufacture.
Lack of Causation
The defendant may argue that their product did not cause the plaintiff’s injuries and that some other factor was responsible.
If a plaintiff is injured while using a product, but the injury was not actually caused by the product (for example, if the plaintiff was injured in a car accident while using a car seat, but the car seat was not defective), the defendant may argue that they should not be held liable.
Assumption of Misuse
If the plaintiff knew that their use of the product was not intended or recommended, and they used it anyway, the defendant may argue that they assumed the risk of injury.
If a plaintiff was injured while using a power tool in a way that was not intended or recommended by the manufacturer, the defendant may argue that the plaintiff assumed the risk of injury by using the tool in that manner.
Government Contractor Defense
If the defendant is a government contractor who was following specific government specifications when manufacturing the product, they may be immune from liability under certain circumstances.
If a manufacturer is a government contractor and the product was manufactured in accordance with specific government specifications, the manufacturer may be immune from liability under certain circumstances.
For example, if the government specifies that a certain type of aircraft part must be used in military planes, and the manufacturer follows those specifications, but the part later fails, the manufacturer may be immune from liability.
Is the Statute of Limitations a Defense in a Products Liability Case?
The statute of limitations, the period within which a plaintiff must file a lawsuit, can serve as a defense in product liability cases. If the plaintiff files their case after the statute of limitations has expired, the defendant can argue that the case should be dismissed.
Assume Sarah purchased a hair dryer from a local store in July 2018. In November 2018, the hair dryer suddenly overheated and exploded, causing Sarah to suffer burns on her face, neck, and hands.
She sought medical treatment and filed a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer in July 2021, more than three years after the incident occurred.
The manufacturer files a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the statute of limitations in Sarah’s state is two years from the date of injury and that her lawsuit is, therefore, time-barred.
Sarah argues that she didn’t realize the full extent of her injuries until much later and that the statute of limitations should therefore be tolled (paused) until she discovered the full extent of her injuries.
The court ultimately agrees with the manufacturer and dismisses Sarah’s case. The court notes that Sarah was injured in November 2018 and that the two-year statute of limitations expired in November 2020.
The court also found that Sarah did not meet the legal standard for tolling the statute of limitations, as she had not shown that she could not discover the full extent of her injuries until after the statute of limitations had expired.
As a result, Sarah is unable to recover damages for her injuries from the hair dryer manufacturer, as her lawsuit was dismissed as time-barred.
What If Something Else Caused the Plaintiff’s Injury?
Defendants can argue that an unrelated factor or unforeseeable circumstance caused the plaintiff’s injury. For example, if a falling tree branch caused a chainsaw accident, the defendant may claim that the unforeseeable event led to the plaintiff’s injury.
Do I Need a Personal Injury Attorney to Help with Product Liability Issues?
If you are involved in a product liability case due to the alleged sale, manufacturing, or distribution of a defective or dangerous product, consult with a defective product lawyer. An experienced personal injury attorney can evaluate your case, identify available defenses, assist with settlement negotiations, and provide representation in court if necessary.
LegalMatch is an online legal matching service that connects you with a personal injury attorney with experience handling product liability cases. You can submit information about your case on the LegalMatch website, and attorneys interested in taking it will review it and respond with their qualifications and fee structures. This allows you to compare and contrast different attorneys and choose the one you believe will be the best fit for your needs.
Use LegalMatch for peace of mind when seeking legal representation for your product liability case.