Product Liability Case: Proving Fault

A person who has been injured as a result of a defective or dangerous product has a greater chance of recovering for damages than other personal injury victims. Special rules and theories such as negligence, strict liability and breach of warranty apply to different cases related to product liability.

Strict Liability

The doctrine of strict liability applies to manufacturers or sellers of consumer products. It allows person who has been injured by a product to hold the manufacturer or seller liable for the injuries suffered because of a dangerous or defective product without having to show how the defendant has been negligent or at fault.

In ordinary personal injury cases, a plaintiff must prove that the other person was at fault or negligent in order to be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. However, in product liability on products sold to the general public, it would be very difficult and impractical for an ordinary consumer to prove exactly where a manufacturer went wrong or became negligent in the production of the product concerned. It is also very hard and not expected of a consumer to prove that the seller or renter of a particular product had adequate systems in place to check for any defect made by the manufacturer. In addition to that, the end user is not expected to be able to check every product for defects or hazards prior to using or consuming.

Strict liability applies to manufacturers and sellers of consumer products. However, it only applies to sellers who sell or rent a particular product on a regular basis. Those who sell in flea markets or garage sales are not covered by the strict liability rule.

Rules of Strict Liability

Strict liability applies even if a manufacturer or seller asserts that they have done their best to ensure the safety of the product. There is no need for the plaintiff to show that the manufacturer or seller have been careless in order to recover damages as long as the following conditions are present:

  • The defect of the product is “unreasonably dangerous” and it has caused an injury to the user of the product. This defect may come from the product design, or as a result of the manufacturing process, or because of the shipment and handling done to the product.
  • The injury caused by the defect happened while the product was being used in a manner in which it is intended.
  • There has been no substantial or significant change in the product from its condition when it was sold. A substantial change is any change done that affects the performance of the product.

Manufacturers’ and Sellers’ Defense: Awareness of the Defect

Despite the strict liability rule, the manufacturers and sellers may still have a defense if the product has been owned by the injured party for a significant period because it is possible that because it has been owned for a time, the consumer may have already been aware of the defect of the product and still chose to use it.

If it is shown that the plaintiff may have either changed the product from its original form, or may have been aware of the defect and still continued to use it despite the known defect, then the plaintiff may not be able to claim damages for any injury caused by the product.

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