A product liability lawsuit typically involves injuries or losses that are caused by a consumer product. In the majority of cases, the injuries or damages are caused by a defect in the product. 

Product liability claims can sometimes involve many individuals, or plaintiffs, in a class action lawsuit. This may be the case if one particular product was distributed to many people.

The remedies in a product liability lawsuit usually involve a monetary damages award. Damages are awarded to injured plaintiffs in order to reimburse them for their losses or compensate them for the cost of their injuries. 

Damages may cover costs associated with medical bills and other losses. In certain cases, a court may require the company that is responsible for the defective product to remove their product from the marker or supply replacements to affected purchasers.

What are Some Common Types of Product Liability Lawsuits?

Most product liability lawsuits can be divided into three main categories of defects. These include:

  • Design defects;
  • Manufacturing defects; and
  • Warning or labeling defects.

A design defect occurs when the design of the product, prior to manufacturing, is inherently unsafe. For example, an eating utensil that is designed to be manufactured from extremely toxic materials has a design defect.

A manufacturing defect occurs when the process of making the product renders it unsafe, even if the initial design was acceptable. For example, if a child’s toy is manufactured without certain screws, allowing small parts to separate from the toy, it has a manufacturing defect.

A warning or labeling defect occurs when a product does not include sufficient warning labels or instructions on its usage. For example, if an electrical product does not come with a label warning of the dangers of mixing water and electricity.

Because of the different types of defect claims available, there are many different parties that may be held liable in a product liability claim. For example, a designer of a product may be held liable for poor product design. 

In other instances, a company may have had their product manufactured by a different company. If the manufacturing company committed manufacturing errors, they may be held responsible for the defective product. Additionally, a retailer that removes a warning label from a product may also be subject to a product liability lawsuit.

Are There Any Defenses to Product Liability Claims?

Yes, there may be defenses available in product liability claims. Manufacturers or distributors can raise various defenses to product liability claims

For example, an available defense may be that the injured party, or plaintiff, was negligent and caused their own injuries. This may occur if the plaintiff did not use the product as it was intended to be used.

Another available defense may be that the plaintiff knew about the risks of defects but continued to use the product anyway, for example, if there was visible breakage or wear on the product. 

In some jurisdictions, if a plaintiff is negligent, some jurisdictions may prevent them from recovering damages or may reduce their damages award. These legal concepts are called comparative and contributory negligence.

What is Negligence?

Negligence is one of the most common unintentional torts. It is the basis for many personal injury lawsuits, including:

  • Car accidents;
  • Slip and fall accidents;
  • Medical malpractice;
  • Dog bite cases; and
  • Many other types of cases.

Negligence can be defined differently in different jurisdictions. However, most jurisdictions have five basic elements for a negligence lawsuit, including:

  • The defendant owed a duty of care;
  • The defendant breached that duty of care;
  • The breach of duty was the cause of the plaintiff’s injury; 
  • The potential harm was foreseeable; and
  • The plaintiff can show actual damages that resulted from the incident.

What is Contributory Negligence?

Contributory negligence is a more dated version of negligence that comes from English common law. The doctrine of negligence states that if a plaintiff is found to be at all negligent in the incident at issue, they cannot recover any damages from the defendant. This is known as a total bar to recovery. If the court determines that the plaintiff was even one percent at fault for the incident, they receive no compensation.

This is an extreme approach. Over the years, this version of negligence has been steadily replaced with other laws in many states. The only states that still use pure contributory negligence include:

  • Alabama;
  • Maryland;
  • North Carolina;
  • Virginia; and
  • Washington, D.C.

What is Comparative Negligence?

The remainder of states use a modern approach to damage reduction in negligence cases. This approach is called comparative negligence. There are different types of comparative negligence, including:

  • Pure comparative negligence;
  • Modified Comparative Negligence, the 50% rule; and
  • Modified comparative negligence, the 51% rule.

Pure comparative negligence does not bar a plaintiff from recovery. This is true even if the court finds the plaintiff is 99% at fault for the incident at issue. The amount the plaintiff can receive in monetary damages is reduced by their percentage of fault. 

For example, if the plaintiff sues a defendant for $100,000, but is found to be 60% at fault, they may still be able to recover $40,000 in damages. 13 states follow this rule, including:

  • Alaska; 
  • Arizona; 
  • California; 
  • Florida; 
  • Kentucky; 
  • Louisiana; 
  • Mississippi; 
  • Missouri; 
  • New Mexico; 
  • New York; 
  • Rhode Island; 
  • South Dakota; and 
  • Washington.

The modified comparative negligence, the 50% rule bars a plaintiff from recovery if they are found to be 50% or more at fault for the incident in question. If the plaintiff is found to be 49% or less negligent, they may recover damages. Similar to pure comparative negligence, their damages recovery is reduced by their percentage of fault. The states that utilize this approach include:

  • Arkansas; 
  • Colorado; 
  • Georgia; 
  • Idaho; 
  • Kansas; 
  • Maine; 
  • Nebraska; 
  • North Dakota; 
  • South Carolina; 
  • Tennessee; 
  • Utah; and 
  • West Virginia.

The modified comparative negligence, the 51% rule is the same as the previously discussed 50% rule except that the percentage negligence by the plaintiff that bars recovery is slightly higher. The injured party may recover if the court determines that they are 50% or less responsible for the incident. 

The percentage difference between these two rules may seem minute. However, the idea is that if the plaintiff and defendant equally share the blame for an incident, an injured party should be able to seek compensation, even if that amount is reduced. States that use the 51% negligence rule include:

  • Connecticut; 
  • Delaware; 
  • Hawaii; 
  • Illinois; 
  • Indiana; 
  • Iowa;
  • Massachusetts; 
  • Michigan; 
  • Minnesota; 
  • Montana; 
  • Nevada; 
  • New Hampshire; 
  • New Jersey; 
  • Ohio; 
  • Oklahoma; 
  • Oregon; 
  • Pennsylvania; 
  • Texas; 
  • Vermont; 
  • Wisconsin; and 
  • Wyoming.

Some states use a combination of these negligence theories, so it is important to consult with an attorney when considering legal action. The recovery rules may affect which approach is best for an individual’s situation.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With a Product Liability Lawsuit?

It is essential to have an experienced consumer lawyer for help with a product liability lawsuit. These types of lawsuits may be extremely complicated, especially if the lawsuit is filed as a class action suit. 

An attorney can review your case, determine if you are eligible to collect damages for your injuries, and represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary. Your attorney will ensure you receive the best possible compensation for your injuries.