If you or a loved one were injured due to a defective or dangerous product, you likely have a strong product liability case on your hands. This ultimate guide will break down the common forms of product liability and answer some of the common questions concerning this area of law.
What Is Product Liability Law?
Generally speaking, product liability occupies a portion of personal injury law. Product liability holds manufacturers, producers, distributors, suppliers, and retailers responsible for injuries caused by the products they sell to the public. These producers will be held liable if a defective or dangerous product injures a member of the public.
How Can a Product Be Defective?
Manufacturers and retailers can be liable for product liability if they provide a defective product to the public. There are three main ways in which a product can be considered defective:
Design Defect: Under this theory of product liability, your claim is based on the idea that there is an inherent and dangerous flaw in the design of the product. If there is a design defect, the entire "batch" of products will be rendered defective by the dangerous design flaw. A manufacturer will be liable for injuries caused by a defective design if the product was designed as intended and injured someone using the product for its intended use. A manufacturer will also be liable for the foreseeable misuses of its product. Examples of Design Defects:
Children’s products which contain small choking hazards or are otherwise unsafe for the age of child it is intended for
Structurally unstable products
Unexpectedly flammable items, especially where the item would regularly come in contact with heat sources (i.e., cookware)
Manufacturer Defect: Under the manufacturing defect theory of liability, a manufacturer will be liable for a defect caused by an error in the manufacturing process, which then causes an injury or financial loss. A manufacturing defect is different than a design defect. With a manufacturing defect, there is no flaw in the design of the product, but an error occurred during the production of the product which renders the item defective. Examples of Manufacturing Defects:
- Pieces of the product are not securely fastened
- Installing incorrect or outdated competent
- Using the wrong color where color indicates safety precautions
- Faulty electrical or mechanical wiring
Marketing Defect: A marketing defect is considered a defect because of a manufacturer’s failure to warn about the potential hazards of using the product. Sellers and manufacturers have a duty to give an appropriate warning when their products pose a reasonably foreseeable risk of harm. In determining whether there was a duty to warn about a risk of harm, the court considers the foreseeability of harm, the severity of likely harm, the ease (or difficulty) of providing an adequate warning, and the likely effectiveness of a warning. There is no duty to warn when the risk of harm is open or obvious (i.e., riding a motorcycle). Example of Marketing Defect:
- A bicycle helmet is designed to normal industry standards but is marketed as "indestructible", when in reality it can be crushed in a serious accident.
How Can a Product be Dangerous?
There are some products that are simply dangerous given the nature of their components or their expected uses. This alone does not create liability for producers of dangerous products. Typically, if you buy a dangerous product (i.e., toxic chemicals), you are assuming the risk of being injured.
However, dangerous products liability protects a consumer from injury by an unexpectedly dangerous product. A seller or producer of dangerous products will be labile if the dangerous nature of the product is not common expected or if the producer failed to properly warn consumers of the dangerousness of using the product.
Theories of Product Liability
Depending upon the state in which you were injured, or the type of product by which you were harmed, there are various legal theories you can use to prove product liability. The most common legal theories are:
- Negligence. Under the negligence theory of product liability, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant owed a duty to protect the plaintiff from injury, and their breach of that duty in fact caused the plaintiff’s injury. Depending upon the state in which the injury occurred, the defendant’s liability will be offset or limited by the plaintiff’s own fault of negligence.
- Strict Liability. Today, many states have adopted some form of strict products liability. Under these laws, if a product is determined to be defective, any fault or negligence of the plaintiff is immaterial. If the defendant producer or seller is responsible for the product, they will be entirely liable for the injuries caused. Under the strict liability theory, the plaintiff does not need to show that the defendant owed a duty to protect the plaintiff from harm.
- Liability by Statute. Some states have enacted clearly defined statutes that spell out the nature of proof required for product liability. If you were injured in one of these states, your attorney will use the statute as guideline in determining the manufacturer/reseller’s liability as well as any cap on damages you could receive.
What Information Will Help Your Claim?
In the event a defective or dangerous product injures you, it is important that you consider the paperwork and items you will need to prove your injury and recover damages. Below are some suggests about what to documents you should seek out or hold on to.
- Your health is the most important. If you are seriously injured, seek medical attention immediately. If you are not seriously injured, you may want to document the scene of the accident with photographs, especially if the defect is obvious on the face of the product. If possible, you will also want to collect the contact information of anyone who witnessed your accident. Collecting direct evidence of the scene of the accident will help your attorney bolster your claims in court or at the negotiating table.
- Be sure to save receipts of all expenses you incur, including doctor visits, medicine, and any costs that result from the accident. If you have to miss work because of injury, be sure to keep updated records of time/wages lost. Doing so will help your attorney quantify the injury’s impact on your finances.
- If you have filed a claim for your injuries with your insurance provider, you will want to keep a clear record of any correspondence. These conversations will become useful in the event that your insurance provider does not cover all of your injuries and needs up front.
How Your Attorney Can Prove Liability
Before hiring an attorney to pursue your product liability claim, you should have a thorough understanding of how your attorney will present your lawsuit. Below are the factors necessary to craft a plausible claim:
- Show a quantifiable loss. In order to have a shot at getting into court with your claim, you must have suffered some loss as a result of the defective or dangerous product. Essentially, there must be some physical injury to your person or financial injury to your property.
- Show the defective product caused the loss. In proving that the unexpected danger or defective design of the product caused your injury, you will want to prove there was a safer design available, he defendant knew of prior accidents similar to yours, or the manufacturer was sufficiently notified of the danger and did not take reasonable steps to prevent injuries or warn about the peril.
- Prove the Manufacturer/Reseller is responsible for the danger or defect. Your attorney can prove this through one of the theories of liability discussed above (negligence, strict liability, or liability by statute.)
- Be prepared to defend your own fault. A common defense to product liability claims is that the plaintiff was aware of the danger and assumed the risk by continuing use of the product. Another common defense occurs where the plaintiff is injured when he or she fails to use the product for its intended purpose or in the manner in which the manufacturer intended the product to be used.
- File the lawsuit in a timely manner. States have varying statute of limitation requirements for product liability claims. Hiring an experienced and informed lawyer will protect you from losing your right to sue because of a timing issue.
In the event your claim is successful, you can expect to recover damages in the following areas:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium (loss of time and the normal companionship of your spouse)
- Punitive damages (if the defendant acted in an exceptionally irresponsible or neglectful manner, the court may also order further damages to punish the defendant)
You Will Need an Attorney to Pursue Your Claim
If you’ve been injured by a defective or dangerous product it is essential you contact an experienced personal injury attorney. There is no doubt the product’s producer/seller will vigorously defend the claim, so you need an attorney who can craft a thorough case that ensures you receive the compensation you deserve.