Product Liability Laws
Written by AskTheLawyers.com™
PRODUCT LIABILITY LAWS
When a manufacturer creates, markets, and sells a product, they have a responsibility to the public to make sure that the product is safe. When an unsafe product enters the market and causes death or injury, the manufacturer, as well as others, may be held responsible for the damages. Product liability laws were formed to protect the consumer.
In the United States, Consumer Protection is important due to defective products injuring (and sometimes even killing) individuals each year. As the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) points out, there are over 29 million injuries every year and over 22,000 deaths because of defective products. Originally, the law placed responsibility on the consumer, and the rationale was based more off of a “buyer beware” mentality. An actual contract had to be agreed upon between the producer and the consumer in order for the company to take responsibility for their faulty product harming their consumer. If there was no “privity of contract”, there was no compensation.
Now, much has changed, and most states no longer require this because it has become apparent that irresponsible and negligent designers, manufacturers, distributors, and suppliers must be held accountable. Today, it is possible for consumers to be awarded millions of dollars in compensation. Even people that did not buy the product themselves have a right to initiate a Cause of Action (aka Sue) if they were injured by the product. This is due to the U.S. "Product liability law," and it is handled somewhat differently than ordinary injury law.
Despite the fact that these unsafe products are often pulled from the market once it becomes apparent that people have been injured in some way by them, this does nothing for the people that have already been affected by the product. Compensation from the manufacturer will be attainable via the unique laws of each particular state, but the common theories that their case will be based on are strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranty.
Every jurisdiction is different, but most of the time, product liability is determined through one of four theories:
Strict Liability Tort
The key here is that the burden of proof is more about proving an item was defective, it is not about determining fault. Sometimes this approach is the most helpful for the plaintiff. However, note that this does not apply if the product is bought somewhere second-hand. In order for this theory to come into play, the product has to be purchased in the way that the supplier’s business originally intended.
This is about if each party properly handled and cared for the item. Questions regarding this can be directed towards either the consumer or those connected to production and supply.
Breach of Warranty
This is in regards to the seller's claims about the quality and capability of the item.
If in advertising or sales, a company downplays the hazards of an item in efforts to make it appear safer than it actually is, this is a misrepresentation. It’s about the intent or negligence to cover up possible hazards.
All of these theories require the plaintiff to prove that their injury was caused by the dangerously defective product.
There are three types of defects that might cause injury and give rise to manufacturer or supplier liability:
- Defective design of the product
- Defective manufacturing of the product
- Defective Marketing of the product that was perhaps misleading or inadequate in how it should have warned the consumer about how dangerous it was.
Questioning the Consumer
“Don’t blame us, it was someone else’s fault!!”
First of all, beware that it is common for the plaintiff to be blamed for accusing the wrong party along the supply chain. The only exception to this is concerning medications, and it is called “market share liability.” In this case, a plaintiff is not expected to identify the specific pharmaceutical company that supplies the particular drug that he/she took.
“You ruined it after you bought it!”
Sometimes the defendant will attempt to shift the blame to the plaintiff using a doctrine called "res ipsa loquitur”, a Latin term that means "the thing speaks for itself.” What this means in court is that the consumer was negligent and rendered the product defective. When this comes up, the plaintiff has to shift gears from proving the defendant was at fault into now proving that they, themselves, are not at fault.
Sometimes, the defendant will blame the plaintiff for causing their own injury due to their alterations of the product. Another defense is to accuse the plaintiff of misusing the product in a way that does not align with its intent.
“Why didn’t you say something sooner?”
Another common defense used is to claim that the consumer had the product for a period of time, and yet they continued to use the product. This argument can even be taken to the insurance company of the manufacturer or seller for further examination. This can cause you to be forced to forfeit your right to claim injury damages.
Common Causes For Product Defect Liability
A product can be made defective at any point along the distribution chain:
- product design defects,
- product manufacturing flaws,
- Flaws by a manufacturer of components,
- insufficient product testing,
- Insufficient assembly or installation,
- and product marketing misrepresentation, such as making hard to read or hard to follow directions or warning labels.
- The Wholesaler
- The retail store
Common product defects include:
- baby products,
- car brakes,
- bulldozer malfunctions,
- defective heart valves, pacemakers, defibrillators, vaginal slings, hip implants and other defective medical devices,
- diet pills,
- drug-eluting stents,
- fire sprinklers,
- smoke alarms, smoke detectors, fire alarms, fire protection or fire suppression equipment,
- tires, such as Firestone tires,
- high chairs, strollers
- safety belts and seat belts,
- cars, such as the Saturn Vue,
Unavoidably Unsafe Products
Some products, like knives, for example, are simply dangerous due to what they are designed for. Proper warnings are required by manufacturers and suppliers to protect consumers from mishandling the item.
State Product Liability Laws
Product liability claims are usually based on state laws, and they almost always follow one of the theories: Strict Liability, Negligence, Breach of Warranty, and Misrepresentation. You can look up your state for details by going here.
In addition, a set of commercial statutes in each state, modeled on the Uniform Commercial Code, will contain warranty rules affecting product liability.
Get The Help You Need
If you were injured by an unsafe product or a product that was recalled, or if a loved one was killed by one of these products, you need to contact a personal injury attorney before the statute of limitations ceases. The attorney should be aggressive in seeking the compensation that you deserve.