In general, products liability refers to an area of tort law. It defines the level of responsibility imposed upon businesses that are involved with the sale, manufacture, distribution, and resale of products that result in damages to consumers and/or users.
Whether an entity can be held legally responsible for injuries caused by defective consumer products will largely depend on state-specific laws and the circumstances surrounding an individual case.
In some instances, all entities connected to a particular consumer product’s chain of distribution can be sued for damages. This may include a number of businesses, such as a designer, a manufacturer, a distributor, a wholesaler, and possibly, even a retailer or reseller of a defective product.
Therefore, it is important for you to understand the basics of product liability law regardless of whether you are a consumer or a business. As a consumer, gaining knowledge about the basics of product liability law can help you to determine when you may be able to bring a lawsuit against a business. It can also help inform you of which businesses may be held liable for injuries received from using a defective consumer product.
On the other hand, if you are a business within a product’s chain of distribution, then educating yourself about products liability law can aid you in avoiding a lawsuit in the future. To learn more about your rights and protections under the product liability laws in your state, you should speak to a local products liability lawyer immediately for further legal advice.
What Is Products Liability?
A claim for products liability typically refers to when a consumer files a lawsuit against the manufacturer or a seller for placing a defective consumer product in the stream of commerce and making it available for purchase by the general public.
For example, a car may be the basis of a product liability lawsuit. In such an instance, both a manufacturer and the seller (usually a dealership) can be held liable for injuries received from operating a vehicle with defective parts.
If the consumer cannot determine which car part manufacturer is responsible for causing the defect, then every entity involved with the assembly and car sale process may be held liable for any resulting damages.
What Defects Create Liability?
There are three main types of defects in products that can lead to liability. These defects include:
- Product design defects: Product design defects refer to inherent flaws in the product. They typically occur when a product is poorly designed or is designed in a manner that makes it dangerous no matter how many precautions the creator or a consumer takes in making and using it.
- Defective warning labels: Some products require a business to place labels on a consumer product, create instructions for how to use a consumer product, and/or to properly advertise how to sufficiently use a consumer product. If a business fails to do so and a consumer is subsequently injured, then they may be held liable for having a defective warning label, providing inadequate instructions, or failing to advertise how to properly use the product.
- Product manufacture defects: Most product liability lawsuits involve this category of product defects. In contrast to product design defects, a product may have a perfect design in this instance, but the manufacturer may assemble it in a way that causes a consumer to get hurt or that makes the product unsafe for consumer use.
In addition, even products that exhibit obviously dangerous features still require businesses to warn consumers and/or users of the potential risks they may face when using such products. For example, warning consumers that knives have sharp edges or that lighters can cause fires.
When Am I Liable for Selling a Defective Product?
Generally speaking, there are three circumstances under which a lawsuit for defective product liability may be filed. Specifically, these include when one or more of the following legal claims exist in relation to a defective product:
- Strict liability; and/or
- Breach of warranty or fitness.
It should be noted, however, that each state may have its own separate laws and procedural requirements for such cases. This is because there are no uniform federal laws that apply to all defective product liability lawsuits. Thus, the elements of proof for each of the legal claims mentioned in the above list will vary based on the laws of the jurisdiction wherein the case is being tried.
Out of the three legal causes of action listed here, a lawsuit involving a claim for strict liability is the one most likely to affect the liability of an individual or entity that sells a defective product.
The reason for this is because proving strict liability will automatically result in assigning fault to a party associated with the sale of a defective product since the product itself is defective. This means that no matter what action a seller takes, the product will still be deemed to be flawed.
In such a scenario, an injured consumer will only need to prove that they were injured by the product and that they purchased the defective product from the seller. In other words, only one action would have prevented this type of injury: the seller preventing a consumer from purchasing the defective product by removing it from its shelves and not giving a consumer the opportunity to buy a defective product that is for sale.
How Can I Protect Myself From Liability?
A seller of goods can protect themselves from lawsuits and liability by learning about the different situations in which product liability claims can occur, which in turn, can help them to reduce the number of potential product issues that arise. For example, one way for a seller to avoid being held liable for such claims is by demonstrating that the usefulness of a product outweighs its inherent risk of harm to the consumer in using the product.
However, it is important to note that this method of protection may not be available for all products. For instance, a trampoline may be a fun product to use, but its usefulness will not outweigh the risk of a consumer being injured. This balance of factors is known as the “risk utility” test.
Another potential way for sellers to avoid liability for a defective product is to demonstrate that the average consumer would be able to reasonably operate the product without finding any defects or receiving any injuries due to a flaw.
In other words, if a consumer used the product in a way that was found to be inconsistent with its original intended purpose or use, then they would not likely be able to recover damages from a seller under a theory of products liability. The use of a product must be foreseeable and reasonable to the seller in order to hold them accountable for its defects.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Products Liability Claims?
Depending on the circumstances surrounding your case and the products liability laws in your jurisdiction, you may want to consider hiring a local products liability attorney. An attorney who has experience in handling products liability cases will be able to assist you in filing a lawsuit and can help you to potentially recover monetary damages for any injuries you may have received from using a defective product.
Your attorney can also provide legal representation in civil court as well as can offer guidance on the legal rights, protections, and options available under the laws enacted in your particular state or county. Alternatively, if you are a manufacturer or seller of a defective product, your attorney can assist you in building a strong defensive case and can argue on your behalf before a judge.