What is Product Liability?

Every year, thousands of injuries in the United States have been caused by defective or dangerous products. Such cases are covered by the Product Liability Law—this law is distinct from ordinary injury laws, and at times make it relatively easier for the injured party to recover for damages. However, there is no federal product liability law. Therefore, product liability laws are according to state laws.  Theories mostly used in product liability cases involve theories of strict liability, negligence, or breach of warranty.

Products are supposed to meet the ordinary expectations of consumers, and any unexpected danger or defect does not meet ordinary expectations. Manufacturers and sellers of products have the duty to ensure that the products they put in the market are reasonably safe for use of the consumer. All or any of those involved within the distribution chain, from the manufacturer to the retailer, may potentially be held liable in some cases.

Responsible Parties

Product liability arises if the product has been, at one point, sold in the marketplace. Previously, for an injured person to recover there is a requirement of privity of contract or a contractual relationship between the injured person and the supplier of the product. Now in most states, there is no such requirement. A person does not need to have been the one who purchased a product for them to be able to recover for damages if they have been hurt or injured by a product. Simply put, even if someone else bought the product that caused the injury, the injured person can still recover under product liability.

All or any of those involved within the distribution chain, from the manufacturer to the retailer, may potentially be held liable in some cases. Meaning, any one of those where the product went through before getting to the consumer may potentially be held responsible. However, for the seller to be held liable, the sale or supply of such products must be done in a regular basis and not one-time only such as in garage sales.

Types of Product Defects

To prove product liability, there must be evidence that the product that caused the injury has a defect that is unexpected and unreasonably dangerous. There are three types of defects that may be considered in product injury cases. These are:

  • Design defects – these are defects inherent in how the product has been designed, and the flaws have been present even before the product has been manufactured, making the product inherently unsafe regardless of how carefully it has been manufactured and handled.
  • Manufacturing defects – these defects happen during the product’s manufacturing process.
  • Marketing defects – these defects involve those that involve how a product is marketed such as insufficient instructions, improper labeling or inadequate safety warnings.

Design Defects

Design defects are defects inherent in how the product has been designed. The flaws have been present even before the product has been manufactured, making the product inherently unsafe regardless of how carefully it has been manufactured and handled.

For example, a baby crib that is designed with widely-spaced slats may be considered defective in design because it makes babies easily get their head stuck in between the planks. Usually the plaintiff must show that there has been negligence in a design defect claim. But if the plaintiff can show that there other possible practical alternatives to the design in order to make the product safer, then strict liability may apply. If a product is in itself dangerous for any kind of use, the alternative design is not required in order to hold the designer responsible for injuries.

Manufacturing Defects
A product may be brilliantly and flawlessly designed, but the manufacturing process may introduce defects or flaws not intended in the original design. Manufacturing defect is probably one of the easiest defect to prove because of the availability of the product design, which may be used to prove that the mistake was made in the manufacturing process and does not conform with the original design. Even their own marketing standards may be used to prove manufacturing defect.

It is not easy for a plaintiff to prove how or when the defect occurred during the manufacturing process, making it difficult to prove how the negligence happened. Because of this, there are special liability doctrines that may be applied to help the plaintiff recover for damages without the need to prove the negligence of the manufacturer.

  • Res ipsa loquiturthis is Latin for “the thing speaks for itself.” If this doctrine is successfully invoked, the burden of proof shifts to the defendant. Instead of the plaintiff having to prove the negligence of the defendant, the defendant tries to prove that it has not been negligent.
  • Strict liability (no-fault) here, the plaintiff also need not prove the defendant’s negligence. All the plaintiff needs to do is to prove that the product is indeed defective, regardless of whether there was any proof of fault by the manufacturer. Once defect is proven, the plaintiff will most likely be able to recover for damages.

Marketing Defects
The following are marketing defects:

  • Insufficient instructions
  • Improper labeling
  • Failure to warn consumers of the dangers of the product
  • Negligent or intentional misrepresentation of the product

These can give rise to a product liability claim under marketing defects.

Unavoidably Unsafe Products

Unavoidably unsafe products are products that cannot possibly be made safer while keeping its usefulness. Such products such as a chainsaw that revolves slowly enough to not cause serious harm in a short period of time would be practically useless. When it comes to such products, consumers and users are expected to exercise due care and precaution in keeping themselves away from harm when using the product. Because it is inherently unsafe, the manufacturers and suppliers of such products must supply proper warnings or the dangers of their products and provide adequate labels and instructions on its proper use.

Common Defenses to Product Liability Claims

Although it is relatively easy to recover in product liability claims, defendants in such cases are not left without possible defenses. One defense most often used is the proper identification of the supplier of the product that is alleged to have caused the injury. Generally in product liability cases the plaintiff must be able to properly connect the product with the party or parties responsible within the supply chain—manufacturer and suppliers. However, there is an exemption known as market share liability exception. An example of the application of the market share liability exemption is on cases involving medications. In cases when the plaintiff is unable to properly identify exactly which company supplied the drug that caused her injury, the manufacturer of that drug will be held liable based on the manufacturer’s percentage of sales in the area concerned.

Another defense that a manufacturer can use is if the plaintiff has substantially altered the product after the plaintiff’s acquisition, or after it has been distributed, like a car that has been sold to a consumer who then made certain significant changes to it before selling it to another.

One more defense that a defendant can use is if can prove that the plaintiff had used the product in a way that it was not intended, therebt causing the product to malfunction and harm the plaintiff.

Getting Legal Help for a Defective Product Injury

As previously mentioned, it is relatively easier to recover for product injury compared with other injury cases. However, it is still not as easy as it looks as it would require the expertise of professionals such as an experienced lawyer, doctors, safety engineers, and other experts to prove your case. Furthermore, each state has different laws related to product liability lawsuits. That’s why it is very important to work with an experienced lawyer from your area who could provide you with more information and guide you on the proper steps to take in order to see the success of your case.

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