Understanding Product Liability

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Understanding Product Liability

by ICC on July 27, 2018
July 27, 2018 / by / in

Product liability is a specialized area of personal injury law, which involves incidences in which people are injured or otherwise harmed through the use of dangerous or defective products. In product liability, a manufacturer, a seller, or both may be held liable for releasing a product that has the potential to cause harm and injuries. When a product has not met “the ordinary expectations of the consumer,” product liability law recognizes that the manufacturer or distributor of that product has acted negligently.

The Three Types of Product Liability Claims

When it comes to pursuing damages for injuries caused by a defective or dangerous product, there are three types of claims. By learning about these types, it’s easier to understand how a claim can be initiated and what’s involved in pursuing a case of product liability.

Products That Have Been Defectively Manufactured

This is the most common type of product liability claim and involves products that are flawed due to some production error. While there may not be anything wrong with the product’s design, mistakes or mechanical failures have rendered the product defective. The defect distinguishes it from other products of the same type and the defects are responsible for causing the injury or harm. Examples of a defectively manufactured product might include a swing set with broken chain links, a vehicle missing brake pads, or medication containing a toxic substance.

Defects in the Design of a Product

A defectively designed product is something that is engineered in such a way that it’s dangerous to use. In this category, products have been manufactured according to established specifications without any errors, but the very design of the product makes it dangerous for consumers to use. Examples of a defectively designed product include vehicles that tend to flip on sharp turns, sunglasses that don’t provide the promised level of protection against UV rays, or electrical devices that frequently short out through normal use.

Failure to Caution Consumers About Dangers

Manufacturing a dangerous product isn’t necessarily against the law, but the manufacturer does have an obligation to warn consumers about the potential danger. A failure-to-warn product liability suit concerns circumstances where a product did not come with the appropriate warning labels and the manufacturer knew about the risk of danger. Additionally, warning labels must accompany products where the danger isn’t obvious or where special care is required in the use of the product. Examples of a failure-to-warn claim include toxic cleaning chemicals sold without appropriate instructions on proper handling, a medication that doesn’t list common and dangerous side effects, or an electric teapot that doesn’t come with a label warning users to be aware of hot steam escaping the oddly positioned valve.

How to Win a Strict Product Liability Case

In most personal injury cases, the plaintiff’s actions play a part in determining the liability of the defendant. The plaintiff must have acted in accordance with behaviors that would have been practiced by an average and reasonable person. That standard is not held up to a plaintiff in a strict product liability case, however, and the plaintiff’s actions don’t influence the liability of the manufacturer or distributor of a defective product. This special condition was established, because plaintiffs were finding it increasingly difficult to win their cases, where they had been genuinely harmed or injured by a dangerous product.

Courts determined that it was too difficult to show that a business had neglected their duty of care in product liability cases. Even when plaintiffs had a strong case, the insurance companies and attorneys working for the defendant were experienced in confusing the issues of the case. They often made it seem as though the plaintiff hadn’t been seriously harmed by the defective product.

“It is best for clients to choose a law firm backed by extensive experience and has the financial means to effectively and aggressively represent them.” said personal injury attorney Erik Abrahamson.

For this reason, the burden on the plaintiff is limited to just three factors. If the plaintiff can prove the following three points, that’s sufficient to win a strict product liability case.

  • The product was in an “unreasonably dangerous” condition at the time it was sold
  • The distributor intended for the product to reach the consumer without alterations
  • The plaintiff was injured or the plaintiff’s property was damaged through the use of the product

While this does make it easier for a plaintiff to win their case, it doesn’t mean the manufacturer is always liable. If the defendant can show that the plaintiff used the product in a way not intended, they may escape liability. Similarly, the manufacturer cannot be held liable, if the plaintiff knew about the defect in advance and used the product anyway. Additionally, if another individual or a set of circumstances altered the nature of the product, the manufacturer can’t be held liable.