Demystifying the Law: Product Liability

Posted April 21, 2011 in Products Liability by

Hardly a day goes by without news of a major product recall: Toyota cars, Roman window blinds, drop-side cribs, tainted food. For most of us, these recalls are just a minor inconvenience. We call an 800-number, schedule a repair, dispose of the product, get a refund. But what about those who are injured by a defective or unsafe product? Then it becomes a product liability issue. This article will demystify the topic of product liability.

     
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Product Liability Defined

Product liability law is a subset of personal injury law. Specifically, product liability is the branch of tort law that holds designers, manufacturers and sellers responsible for any harm suffered by buyers and users of defective products.

A "product" can be almost anything, from a pharmaceutical drug to a map. Product liability law covers three major types of defects:

  • Design defects, such as a product that is inherently dangerous
  • Manufacturing defects, such as a product made with poor-quality materials
  • Marketing defects, also known as "failure to warn" includes products that fail to warn users about non-obvious dangers

Examples of products that have been subject to major product liability cases include asbestos (which can cause a rare form of cancer), the drug Vioxx (which is linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes) and infant cribs (which have a danger of suffocating infants).

Do You Have a Product Liability Case?

Not everyone who comes in contact with a defective product has a possible product liability case. To bring a successful product liability case, several conditions must exist:

  • Defect: You need to prove the product was defective
  • Causation: You were hurt by and because of the product defect
  • Injury: You sustained an actual injury because of the product defect
  • Duty: The seller or manufacturer owed you a duty to make or sell a safe product

For example, suppose you owned a Toyota that had defective brakes. Toyota has a duty to make and sell you a safe product, but you instead received a defective product – meaning the defect and duty conditions existed. However, if you didn’t experience any brake failure or weren’t injured by a brake failure, you wouldn’t have a valid product liability case because there was no injury or other reason to file a claim.

Some product liability cases become class action suits because one or two people harmed may be less effective as many people coming together to file damages for the same item.

Types of Product Liability Cases

Product liability cases typically fall into three categories:

  • Negligence Cases: This case type most resembles an ordinary negligence lawsuit. In addition to duty, defect, causation and injury, you need to prove the manufacturer or seller violated its duty to you. Usually, you prove the seller or manufacturer was aware of the defect or should have been aware based on information known or available.
  • Strict Product Liability: Strict liability focuses on the product, rather than the manufacturer. You won’t have to prove the maker was negligent or that there was a manufacturing or design defect.
  • Breach of Warranty: When the maker of a product warrantees its characteristics, if it fails in one of those characteristics and the failure causes your injury, you have a breach of warranty lawsuit. Warranties can be express (written or sometimes verbal) or implied by law.

Winning a Product Liability Lawsuit

If you win a product liability lawsuit, you’ll be able to recover what are known as damages. Damages are money paid to compensate you for your injuries. When calculating damages, a judge or jury would consider:

  • The cost of past, present and future medical treatment related to your injuries
  • Any income you’ve lost as a result of your injuries
  • The value of your pain and suffering
  • Whether you’ve had to hire help (such as physical therapists or a cleaning service) as a result of your injuries
  • The cost of repairing or replacing any personal property that was damaged or destroyed as a result of the defective product

A product liability lawyer can help you understand whether you have a valid case and how much your claim might be worth.

Related Apps for Your Smartphone*

- Recalls.gov – Check food, drug, car, and product recalls from across the federal government. Free.

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