Product Liability Key Elements

Product Liability
Do You Have a Potential Product Liability Case?

When you purchase a product, you expect it to perform safely and efficiently. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and as a result, defective products cause injuries and fatalities numbering in the thousands, annually in the United States. Product liability laws hold liable manufacturers as well as sellers that are responsible for the placement of any defective product(s) into consumers’ hands.

All parties in a distribution chain can be held responsible for a product defect that causes injury. Responsible parties can include product manufacturers, manufacturers of any component parts, product assemblers or installers, as well as wholesalers and retailers that sold the faulty product to the consumer.

Product Liability Laws

The legal rules concerning who is responsible for defective or dangerous products are different from ordinary injury law. This fact can sometimes make it easier for an injured person to recover damages.

Product liability laws require that a product meets the consumer’s ordinary expectations. Products with an unexpected danger or defect can be found to not meet such expectations. A manufacturer must take reasonable care in the production, proper packaging, issuance of product warnings and instructions for proper use. Additionally, a manufacturer must warn consumers of any risks a product poses when used normally.

Federal product liability laws do not exist. As a result, the majority of product liability laws are determined at the state level and can vary widely from state to state. The legal claims most commonly associated with defective product liability claims pertain to negligence, breach of warranty and/or strict liability. Furthermore, every state has their commercial statutes – based on the Uniform Commercial Code, containing warranty rules that affect product liability.

Who’s at Fault

There are two rules or doctrines that help eliminate the issue of manufacturer fault and allow plaintiffs to recover where they otherwise might not be able to do so.

“Res ipsa loquitur” is a Latin term meaning “the thing speaks for itself”. This doctrine shifts the burden of proof in some product liability cases to the defendant or defendants. According to this doctrine, the defect in question would not exist unless someone was negligent. If successfully invoked, the plaintiff is no longer required to prove negligence; the defendant is now required to prove that it was not negligent.

Strict liability is the second rule that helps plaintiffs in product liability cases. If strict liability applies, the plaintiff only needs to prove that the product was defective and not that a manufacturer was negligent.

Product Liability Law

Product liability law is based on the simple premise that product manufacturers are in the position to keep defective and danger products from ever entering the market. Therefore, it is the manufacturer’s duty to protect consumers from unsafe products. A manufacturer that fails to exercise this duty to protect, can be held liable.

Product liability claims against a particular manufacturer are usually based on the legal theories related to negligence, breach of warranty, misrepresentation, and strict liability.

Making a Product Liability Claim

In order for a product liability claim to be viable, it’s critical that the defective product in question was available and sold in the market. In past years, a contractual relationship (or privity of contract) was necessary between the injured party and the product supplier. The injured individual had to be the product purchaser for any chance of recovery. Now, most states do not have this requirement and any individual can potentially recover for injuries as long as they could foreseeably have sustained injury by a faulty product.

Claims Against All Responsible Parties

Manufacturers have a legal duty to make and sell safe products that do not cause injury when used as intended. Yet many consumers who are injured by a defective product focus primarily on suing the retailer that sold the product. Product liability laws provide several avenues for injured consumers to bring claims against anyone involved in the design, manufacture and marketing of a dangerous product.

Although manufacturers are often in the strongest financial position to provide just compensation for any injury caused by an unsafe product, all parties in the product’s distribution chain can potentially be held responsible for a product defect, including:

  • Product manufacturer
  • Component parts manufacturer
  • Product assembler or installer
  • Wholesaler
  • Retailer

The supplier must sell the product in the usual course of business, therefore this may exclude liability for certain individuals. Every case is different and the scenarios can be very complex.

Defining A Defective Product

A defective product is one that was designed with defects or was manufactured improperly. Sometimes unscrupulous companies decide it is less expensive to market a defective product rather than make needed safety upgrades to that product. There are countless cases of these defective and/or dangerously designed products harming or killing consumers.

In a defective products liability case, the law may find blame with some or all other individuals involved in the manufacture and/or sale of a specific product. This can include the designer, manufacturer, supplier and retailer. Both companies and individuals may be held liable for any injury their product causes.

Defective Product Types

Defective products liability claims, are for the most part based on strict liability. Under this theory, manufacturers can be held liable regardless of whether or not they acted negligently. An injured customer might not be a position to prove what a manufacturer correctly did or did not do in its design or manufacturing process. Therefore, it is presumed that manufacturers are better situated to absorb the cost of liability and they would consider such expenses in price setting for its products.

In a product liability case, the plaintiff has to prove the product causing injury was faulty and that defect resulted in an unreasonably dangerous product. Each type of product liability claim requires various key elements to be present, but a successful claim is usually based defective design, manufacturing and/or marketing.