When you purchase a product, you expect it to be safe. However, dangerous or defective products injure thousands of consumers every year throughout the country. Product liability laws differ from ordinary injury law. You need the knowledge and expertise of an experienced product liability attorney to navigate the complex legal and technical issues that arise in these cases.
What Is Product Liability?
Any product is meant to meet the reasonable expectations of the consumer who purchased it. Product liability laws have been enacted to protect consumers and provide remedies when they have been harmed by a defective product. Designers, manufacturers and retailers have an obligation to ensure their products are safe when used as intended, and to adequately warn consumers of any risks associated with the uses of their products. When these obligations are not met and cause injury, consumers are entitled to compensation through a product liability lawsuit.
Proving liability is complex, but essentially, your case must establish four elements:
- You were injured while using the product.
- The product is defective.
- Your injury was directly caused by the defective product.
- You were using the product as directed when you sustained your injury.
Types of Product Liability Cases
Typically, there are three types of product liability claims.
Strict liability: Essentially, this means that a defect in the product exists and that injury was sustained as a result. If a defect exists, the manufacturer may be held liable for any resulting damages, even if reasonable caution was used during the product’s manufacturing. Products that were purchased second-hand are not eligible for strict liability claims. In order for strict liability to apply, the defective product must have been purchased through the normal chain of distribution.
Negligence: In order to prove negligence in your defective product case, you must establish that carelessness in the product’s design or manufacturing led to your injuries. You must first show that the defendant had a duty to sell a safe product. You must then demonstrate that the defendant breached this duty, and that “breach of duty” caused your injury. Negligence can occur in many stages of a products development, including:
- Creating or analyzing product design plans
- Maintaining the equipment used for manufacturing various parts of the product
- Failure to adequately test or inspect the product
- Failure to anticipate reasonable uses for the product
- Offering the product to the public too hastily
Breach of Warranty: When a product is sold, the consumer relies on two warranties:
- Express warranty: Any claim or other representation made by manufacturer or retailer about a product or its safety.
- Implied warranty: The implied claim by a manufacturer or other liable party that the product will not cause harm if it is used as intended.
Common Defective Products
Product liability cases can involve thousands of different kinds of products. Some common defective products include:
- Motor vehicles
- Recreational vehicles
- Automotive parts
- Exercise and recreational equipment
- Toys and playground equipment
- Guns and rifles
- Industrial equipment
- Construction equipment
- Smoke detectors and other safety equipment
- Household appliances
- Food and drink
Federal agencies, such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), regulate the safety of consumer products. When products are found to be defective, the CPSC issues public warnings to reduce the risk of unexpected consumer injuries.
Who Can Be Liable in a Product Liability Case?
Determining who is responsible for a defective product can be a complicated process. A typical consumer product can involve numerous parties, such as:
- The retail store that sold the product
- Assembly and/or installation companies
- Component parts manufacturer
- Product manufacturer
- Product designers
In order for strict liability to apply, it must be proven that the sale of the product was conducted in the regular course of a supplier’s business. This means that it is unlikely that someone who sold a product at a garage sale would be held liable in a product liability lawsuit.
Types of Product Defects
Defective products come in all shapes and sizes, from heavy machinery and vehicle equipment to everyday home appliances. Despite customer expectations, manufacturer guarantees and government oversight, defective products find their ways into the marketplace all too often. Products can become defective or otherwise dangerous in a number of ways, including:
Design defects result from an error that occurred in the early stages of a product’s development. Since these flaws are often included in early design drafts or blueprints, it is said that the defects are “planned”. There are two critical elements involved in establishing a defect in design. First, you must show that the design was unreasonably dangerous before the product was actually made. Then, you must establish that the product’s manufacturer could have reasonably anticipated a danger caused by the design.
Three questions are asked to determine whether a design defect exists:
- Prior to manufacturing, was the product’s design unreasonably dangerous?
- Was it reasonable to foresee that the product’s design could harm a potential consumer?
- Could the manufacturer have used a better design that would not alter the purpose of the product while keeping it economically feasible?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, you may have grounds for a defective product claim.
Manufacturing defects arise from an error that unintentionally occurred during the assembly of a product. Manufacturing defects are therefore said to be “unplanned”. In these instances, it must be shown that the defect existed at the time the product left the factory and not something that could result from normal wear and tear later.
Failure to Warn
These claims result from a retailer or manufacturer inadequately warning consumers of risks associated with using their product in a reasonable way. These warnings are not required of dangers that are obvious or could result from a consumer using a product in an unforeseeable way.
According to the American National Standards Institute, the organization responsible for maintaining rules and regulations for product safety signs and labels, a warning label should:
- Inform the purchaser of potential risks
- Inform the purchaser of the severity of risk involved with the particular product
- Inform the purchaser of the possible effects of the risks
- Inform the purchaser how to avoid the risk
Securing and Preserving Evidence for a Product Liability Case
The preservation of the specific product that caused your injury is critical to your product liability case. It may be the only evidence of a flawed assembly, broken component or other dangerous imperfection. Without the preserved product, the power of your case is greatly diminished.
Therefore, it is crucial that that the defective product is secured and preserved as soon as possible. If the product is small enough, it can be placed within a plastic bag or container. Large items, such as faulty construction equipment should be placed in a safe, secure area where it cannot be tampered with. No repairs or alterations should be made to the product.
It is also a good idea to take pictures of the product and the scene of the accident in which the product caused an injury.
Statute of Limitations in a Product Liability Case
Every state in the US has laws which place time limits for filing specific legal claims, called statutes of limitations. Unless a legal exception applies, an injured person loses the right to pursue monetary damages or other relief after the expiration of the statutory period.
In many states, a product liability action must be brought within two years from the time when the injury is – or should have been – discovered. It is important to contact an experienced product liability lawyer as soon as possible to begin building your case and avoid any issues that could be presented by the statute of limitations.