Consumers purchase all kinds of products every day. There is an expectation that products purchased are safe for use. But, sometimes that’s not the case.

Some products are naturally dangerous, and consumers accept a certain amount of risk in purchasing and using those products.

But, even in that case, the designer, manufacturer, or retailer may bear some liability for defective products, even if they are inherently dangerous to begin with.

Other products aren’t meant to be dangerous, but because of a defect in design, manufacture, assembly, or warning, consumers are exposed to unnecessarily dangerous products. This is product liability.

In some cases, whether there is a defect or not, if a consumer is injured as a result of using the product, the manufacturer or retailer of the product may be liable. This is strict product liability, where a manufacturer or retailer is strictly liable regardless of whether an error occurred in creating or selling the product.

What are the Different Kinds of Product Liability?

Typically, in regular product liability, there are three kinds of liability.

  • Defective Design: Defective design is what it sounds like, where there was a defect in the design of the product itself. No matter how well or carefully the product is manufactured, and no matter what precautions a retailer takes in selling the product, the product is still defective, because the design is unsafe.
    • An example of a defectively designed product might be a crib where the material called for has some flexibility in it meaning the slats can be pulled slightly apart by small children. A young child who gets their fingers caught in the crib might be the victim of a defectively designed product.
  • Defective Manufacturing: Defective manufacturing is also what it seems — it is a situation where the manufacturer takes a safe design but errs in fulfilling the design. Consider a case where a design of a crib calls for a certain kind of washer and bolt combination in order to ensure the most snug assembly possible. But, the manufacturer runs out of the kind of bolt washers and bolts the designer required and instead uses an inferior product. If parts of the crib come apart while a child is sleeping in the crib and is injured, the manufacturer may be liable for defective manufacturing.
  • Defective Warning: Defective warning isn’t quite as straightforward as defective design or defective manufacturing. Generally, all consumers are entitled to be warned about known dangers associated with properly using a product.
    • A product can have a defective warning if not all of the known dangers were warned against.
    • There may also be a defective warning if the instructions on the warning label were not thorough enough or contained mistakes.
    • And, a product may contain a defective warning if the warning label was not readily visible or accessible. A warning label on a highchair for example that is covered over by the cloth of the chair itself would likely be considered defective, because purchasers of the product would hardly be expected to see the warning.
  • Strict Liability: Strict liability is where even if a product was safely designed, was properly manufactured, and contained an appropriate warning, a manufacturer or retailer of a product may be liable for injuries resulting from use of the product simply because the product caused those injuries.
    • Essentially, no matter how safe a party was in their part in the creation or sale of a product, they may still be liable for harm caused by the product.
    • Why? The general theory is that if a consumer was charged with having to prove who in the chain of production was liable for the product causing the injury, consumers would have almost no chance to win their case.

What Must Be Proved in Strict Liability Cases?

The news isn’t all bad for manufacturers and retailers, however. Consumers must still prove certain elements in order to succeed in a claim even on strict product liability.

These elements include:

  1. At the time the product was designed, manufactured, or sold, the product was unreasonably dangerous;
  2. When the product was designed, manufactured, or sold, the parties had no expectations that the product would be altered before the product reached the consumer;
  3. The consumer was injured;
  4. The consumer was injured by the product; and
  5. The product was used in a way that was foreseeable by the manufacturer or retailer of the product.  

It is important to prove that the plaintiff’s injury was indeed caused by the product and similarly that the product was in the same state at the time of injury as at the time the consumer purchased the product.

If a consumer alters the product themselves for any purpose and is subsequently injured, then the manufacturer or retailer may not be liable for the injury.

Also, in order to prove strict liability, the consumer must prove that the product was used in a way that the product was intended to be used. If the consumer chooses to use a lunch tray as a snowboard, for example, and is injured in a fall on a ski slope, the seller of the lunch tray is likely not liable for the resulting injury, because a lunch tray was not necessarily intended to be used as a snowboard.

What Can You Do If You are Concerned About Strict Product Liability?

If you are concerned that you may be liable for a product you manufactured or sold, it is important to contact a consumer lawyer as soon as possible. Your attorney can provide you with legal advice and representation for your claim.