The term "product liability" refers to a type of legal case that seeks a remedy for a person injured or killed as a result of a defective manufactured product. These can often be complex cases, requiring thorough investigation to identify the source of the defect and the negligence that allowed it to be part of the manufacturing process.
Each state has its own laws which govern product liability lawsuits. Generally, though, a product is legally deemed defective when the plaintiff proves that the product has a condition that makes it unsafe for its intended use or reasonably foreseeable uses. Proving the existence of a product defect is usually difficult and requires a great deal of skill and research.
The defendant – whether a manufacturer, distributor or seller – vehemently defends against the existence of a defect in most product liability claims. The defendant often goes even further and argues that the injured consumer was using the product improperly and any resulting harm was because of user negligence.
Types of Negligence
A "design defect" occurs when the manufacturer designs a product that is unreasonably dangerous to the consumer. An example of a design defect is a vehicle that has a tendency to flip over under reasonably foreseeable driving conditions.
A "manufacturing defect" occurs when an error in the manufacturing process creates an unreasonably dangerous condition in the product. All products should go through a rigorous inspection process so manufacturing defects can be detected before the product is placed on the market.
A "failure to warn" occurs when the manufacturer fails to warn consumers about a product's dangers or fails to instruct them on how to properly use the product. In some cases, courts have found a "failure to warn" even when a manufacturer's instruction manual warned of a danger, but the warning was hard to see or unclear. In many instances, bold stickers or other warnings on the packaging are necessary to adequately warn the consumer about the danger of serious injury or death. The type of product can also be a factor in determining whether there was a failure to warn.
Failure to warn cases are extremely complicated and typically involve a great deal of evidence presented by both sides.
A "breach of warranty" occurs when the manufacturer or seller makes a promise to the consumer about the product and the promise is then broken resulting in harm. Warranties can be formed verbally, in writing or they can be implied.
An implied warranty is an obligation legally imposed when there has not been an express promise. For example, if you purchase a baseball from a bin at a sporting goods store, there is an implied warranty that the baseball can be hit with a bat without exploding and subjecting the consumer to serious harm. The salesperson and/or product packaging did not need to state this promise for an implied warranty to protect the consumer.
Product liability law is designed not only to deter the production of dangerous goods, but to discourage unsafe products from moving through commerce. Each case is unique, but the manufacturer, distributor and/or seller can typically be held strictly liable for a defective product that injures the consumer.
Each product liability lawsuit is different and the recovery of damages depends on numerous factors, including the state law in effect and the severity of injuries suffered by the consumer. In a successful product liability claim, the plaintiff can recover economic damages such as medical expenses and loss of income.
Even product liability lawsuits that seem to be straightforward need a defective products attorney to ensure that the claim is successful and obtains maximum compensation. Damage valuation is a complicated process that requires specialized expertise. You generally only have one chance to recover damages for your injuries; if your claim leaves you under-compensated, you likely won't have further legal recourse.