Every day, consumers make dozens of purchases. From food products consumed to services engaged to products used. Each product purchase or use of a product can result in a products liability suit to a number of people in the chain of distribution. The manufacturer may be liable, but surprisingly to many consumers and sellers, the retailer of the product may also be liable for a defective product they sold.

Here is what you need to know about products liability and how to protect yourself if you are a manufacturer or seller of goods.

What Is Products Liability?

A products liability claim is where a manufacturer or seller of a product is held accountable for placing a defective product in the stream of commerce. Any party responsible for any part of the manufacture of the product may be held liable just as any seller may be liable. Consider a product like a vehicle.

Automobiles are often produced by numerous manufacturers. One creates the tires, another creates the engine, another creates the stereo system, another creates the gas tank, and on and on. All the individual pieces are brought together and assembled. Then, the vehicle may go to a retailer or dealer.

In the production cycle of a vehicle, dozens of parties may be involved. If the vehicle turns out to be defective, the assembling manufacturer, the wholesaler, the dealer, and the manufacturer of the piece that was found to be defective may all be liable for any injuries caused.

What Defects Create Liability?

There are three types of defects that may result in liability to one or all of the parties involved in the manufacture and sale of the product:

  • Design Defects: Design defects are just what they sound like. They’re defects in the design of the product. No matter how well the product is manufactured, no matter how thoroughly a consumer is warned about the product, if the design is defective, then it is inherently flawed and could lead to potential liability; 
  • Manufacturing Defects: A manufacturing defect is also what it sounds like. The design might be perfect and completely safe, but when the manufacturer puts the product together, they do so in a way that makes the product unsafe; and
  • Defective Warnings: Even if a product is designed and manufactured flawlessly, some products may still lead to a products liability suit if there is an inadequate warning about the product. Defective warning products liability cases may also include failure to properly instruct a consumer on how to use the product.

Some products may seem a bit self-explanatory. A saw is sharp. A firearm is dangerous. A lighter is flammable. While these are true statements, the law has indicated that failure to warn consumers of the dangerous propensities of a product may result in liability.

When Am I Liable for Selling a Defective Product?

There are three instances in which a products liability case may be brought. These include negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty of fitness. Each of these situations is generally different depending on which state’s law is applicable. There’s no federal products liability law, so each state creates the laws and regulations relevant to products liability.

Strict liability cases are especially important, though, for a seller, because they impact sellers especially. This is because a seller may be deemed liable for the defect just because the product was defective regardless of any other action the seller took.

Essentially, all the injured consumer has to prove is that they were injured, they were injured by the product, and the product was sold by the seller. That’s it. It doesn’t matter how careful the seller was, how much the seller warned about the product, or anything else the seller did.

How Can I Protect Myself From Liability?

As a seller of goods, it’s important to know about products liability in order to mitigate any potential problems. One way to avoid liability is to show that the usefulness of product outweighs the inherent risks of harm in using the product.

This may not work for some products. For example, a product like a trampoline may be fun, but the “usefulness” of the product does not outweigh the risk of injury. This is usually referred to as the “risk-utility test.”

Another possible way to avoid liability is to show that a reasonable consumer would not find the product defective when operating the product in a reasonable manner. Another way to put this is that if a consumer takes a product and uses it in such a way that is inconsistent with the purpose or intended use of the product, even if that consumer gets injured, they may not be able to recover from the seller for products liability.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Products Liability Claims?

As always, every legal matter is dependent on the facts in each situation. If you are concerned about a products liability case, contact an attorney who specializes in products liability. Your attorney can provide you with the guidance needed for your case.