Manufacturers and sellers of products must make sure that their products are safe and not in any way defective or dangerous to users. They also must provide proper warnings if any part of their product is unsafe or if using the product in a certain way could be hazardous to the user. If someone is injured by a defective product, they may have grounds to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer, wholesaler, or distributer of the product, depending on the type of defect. The two primary categories of product defects are design defects and manufacturing defects.
A design defect is a flaw in the original design of a product that causes it to be unreasonably dangerous and creates a hazard for potential users. In an injury or death resulting from the defective design of a product, the claim is that the product functioned as it was designed but the design was negligent. A reasonable manufacturer should have known that the design of the product was defective and that it was foreseeable that the design could cause injury or death to the user of the product.
When analyzing whether there is a design defect, we must look at several factors. The manufacturer must look to see if a dangerous condition exists before the manufacture of the product. If so and the dangerous condition cannot be redesigned out of the product before manufacture at an affordable price and without changing the intended use, the manufacturer has a responsibility to guard against the dangerous condition. If the dangerous condition cannot be guarded against, a warning must be given that that the dangerous conditions exists and can cause injury or death.
Manufacturing defects are caused by an error or flaw in the manufacturing process, which results in an unsafe and dangerous product that causes injury or death.
In the United States, the claims most commonly associated with product liability are negligence, strict liability, breach of warranty, and various consumer protection claims. The majority of product liability laws are determined at the state level and vary widely from state to state. Each type of product liability claim requires different elements to be proven to present a successful claim.
Failure to Warn and Warning Labels
A products liability lawsuit can also be commenced against a manufacturer for a failure to warn of potential risks. Any party in the chain of distribution can be liable if warnings or instructions could have prevented injury from foreseeable risks or if the warnings themselves were insufficient and, even when followed properly, caused the injury.
There are strict standards imposed by regulatory authorities with respect to both the content and placement of warnings. As an example, a warning must be highly visible and positioned as close to the area of the hazard as possible. The label should be made with the life expectancy and the typical setting of the product in mind so that it remains visible and in position for the life of the product.
Types of Product Liability Lawsuits
Generally, there are three types of product liability cases.
The injured party must demonstrate that the defendant had a duty to sell a safe product, that the defendant breached this duty (either with a design or manufacturing defect) and that the defective product caused the alleged injuries. A “breach of duty” is shown if the plaintiff can prove that the defendant knew or should have known that the product was defective. This type of case is more difficult to prove and is never recommended as a sole cause of action against a manufacturer. Of course, the plaintiff must also show that the product was being used in a way the manufacturer intended it to be used or in a way the manufacturer could expect a reasonable person to use it.
In general, products liability cases are pursued under the theory of strict liability. With these claims, the injured party is only required to prove that a defect in a product existed and that an injury was sustained as a result. If a defect exists, the manufacturer may be strictly liable for any resulting damages, regardless of whether they exercised extreme caution and care when manufacturing the product. The plaintiff only needs to prove that the defect allegedly responsible for the injury was present at the time the product left the factory where it was manufactured. For strict liability to apply, the product must have been purchased in the original chain of distribution. Products purchased second-hand are not eligible for strict liability claims.
Breach of Warranty
When a good is sold, there are two warranties the buyer relies on – the express warranty and the implied warranty. An express warranty is any representation about a product and its safety made by the manufacturer or retailer. An implied warranty is a promise by the manufacturer that the product, if used as intended, will not cause any harm to the consumer. The breach of warranty cause of action covers any person who would reasonably be expected to use to product.
Who Can Be Held Liable for a Defective Product Injury?
Depending on the specifics of the case, an injured consumer can seek compensation from one or more liable parties, including manufacturers, wholesalers, and/or retail outlets. Determining the defendant in a product liability case is not a matter of choosing one liable party over another, since any party involved in a defective product’s chain of distribution may be held accountable. It is therefore good practice to include in a lawsuit all identifiable parties involved in the chain of distribution.
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