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Guide to Products Liability

If you’ve been injured by a defective product, be it a faulty tire, malfunctioning electronic device, or harmful medication, you may be able to recover under a products liability claim. Products liability claims are those where the plaintiff sues the manufacturer of a product in an attempt to get the manufacturer to compensate the plaintiff for injuries caused by that product. Such claims can be difficult to prove and costly to pursue, but the rewards can be great.


Proving Liability. Proving fault in a products liability case can be a tricky proposition. Liability can be shown in one of three ways:


Negligence.


The first and most complicated way to show fault in a products liability case is to show that the manufacturer or seller of the product was negligent, which basically means that the manufacturer or seller did something it was not supposed to do or failed to do something it was supposed to do. Specifically, it means that the plaintiff must show several things. First, they must show that the product had a defect. There are three different types of defects:

  • Manufacturing Defect. A defect made during the manufacturing process. If, say the product at issue were a defective lawnmower, a manufacturing defect could be the failure to properly affix the blades during assemblage.
  • Design Defect. A defect in the design of the product. Keeping with the lawnmower example, a design defect could be a flaw in the original blueprints for the engine.
  • Marking Defect (Failure to Warn). If a manufacturer fails to inform downstream product users about a potentially dangerous use of the product, they could be held to have failed to warn that user. An example of this could be if a manufacturer failed to warn purchasers of its lawnmowers not to run lawnmowers on sidewalks lest the blades break off and injure the user.


Whether or not the manufacturer of a product is considered to have made it with a defect depends on the circumstances of the case. A court will look at things like whether the manufacturer tested the product before releasing it, what other players in the manufacturer’s industry were doing to test their product, and whether the manufacturer was keeping up with legal and scientific advancements.


It is not enough just to show that a product had a defect. To show fault, a plaintiff must go on to show that he or she was injured, that the injury was caused by the defect. If a plaintiff has shown that a certain light bulb has a defect in its filament but the plaintiff was actually injured by a shard of glass after the light bulb shattered, that plaintiff is unable to show causation and will not win the case. The injury must be caused by the defect.


Finally, the plaintiff must show that the manufacturer had a duty to manufacture a safe product. A manufacturer has a duty to give reasonable warning of dangers involved in the known use of its product when the manufacturer knows or should know that use of the product involves danger.


Strict Liability.


Strict liability is much easier to show than negligence. To hold a manufacturer liability under strict liability, all a plaintiff must do is show that the manufacturer made an unreasonably dangerous product. If that can be done, there is no need to show that the manufacturer was defective or that it owed a duty.


Breach of Warranty.


If the manufacturer warranted to the user that their product will or will not do certain things, and the product does not perform as promised, they can be liable under a breach of warranty. Warranties can come in a variety of forms. They can be written, as when a promise is included in a contract for sale, or verbal, as when a salesman makes a promise that the product will do something upon which the user relies in making the purchase. Warranties can also be implied by law. For example, all products are guaranteed to be fit to do the thing for which they are sold. This is called the implied warranty of merchantability, and if it is broken the manufacturer could be held liable under a breach of warranty theory.


Recovery. If you win in an action for products liability, you stand to recover the same kinds of damages you would in any personal injury case. That is, you can recover damages for wages lost and medical costs sustained as a result of the injury, both now and in the future, as well as damage for pain and suffering incurred due to the injury.


Life of a Products Liability Case. Products liability cases are complicated and can pose special hardships for both plaintiffs and defendants. Here are some facts that might help you navigate the process.

  • Because these cases are so factually complex, they may require expensive expert testimony. Hopefully a lawyer will take the case on a contingent fee basis and cover the cost of this himself, but if they do not, the plaintiff could have to pay for some of it himself.
  • Manufacturers do not like to lose products liability cases. In addition to having to pay out to users injured by their products, the manufacturer may take a hit to their reputation or even be forced to recall some of their goods. For these reasons, the majority of products liability cases settle out of court.

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