Product Liability

What Does Product Liability Mean to Me?

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What Does Product Liability Mean to Me?

The term 'product liability' has multiple meanings and applies in different scenarios as far as personal injury law is concerned. For example, as a consumer, product liability means you can hold another party, most likely the manufacturer of the product, responsible for certain injuries suffered while using that product. This article discusses everything you need to know about product liability from the consumer's perspective. 

What Does Product Liability Mean?

Product liability means that, as a consumer of a product, the law allows you to seek compensation for injuries suffered while using a product as intended. The reasoning behind product liability laws is that manufacturers or other parties involved in producing, marketing, or distributing a product have a certain degree of responsibility to their consumers. 

It also assumes that consumers have certain expectations when using a particular product correctly. For example, when using a shaving machine, you expect it to shave your hair or beard without the risk of electrocution. So when such a product causes injuries to you or your loved one, you may file a product liability claim with the manufacturer. 

The term 'product liability; is broad, and for this reason, it is further broken down into different subcategories. Here is an overview of the most common product liability cases and what they entail. 

Defective Design Product Liability

Under defective design product liability, you may be eligible for compensation if you get injured by a product due to its defective design. This is usually one of the most difficult claims to prove, especially without an attorney. It also requires a lot of resources to prove that the product's design is defective. 

For example, suppose you purchase a space heater to heat up your room in the winter, but the heater melts, causing fire damage to your property. You may file a claim against the manufacturer of the heater if investigations conclude that the heater melted when set to a particular temperature, something you did not expect as a consumer.

Another example is when you get injured while using a power tool that lacks sufficient protection for the user. This could be in the form of safety guards for the arms or any other body part. For example, let's assume it is a woodcutter; if the power tool does not have enough safety features, you may lose a part of your body when it comes in contact with running blades. You may be eligible for compensation under defective design product liability when that happens.

But there is also another twist to the concept of defective design product liability. As the consumer or victim of the injury, you are not automatically entitled to compensation unless you prove certain elements, which we will discuss later in this article. 

Manufacturing Defect Product Liability

Under manufacturing defect product liability, you can sue the other party for injuries sustained due to a manufacturing defect in a particular product. Products subject to manufacturing defect product liability lawsuits do not necessarily have a bad design. In most cases, such products function properly as intended, have a good design, but come with a certain error that could have been avoided during the manufacturing process. 

For instance, a car steering wheel may appear to have the correct design (mostly circular) and features needed to control the car. However, a missing bolt could be the difference between life and death. So if you get into an accident because you tried to make a quick turn but failed because of a missing part in the steering wheel, you may file a claim against the manufacturing company for compensation. 

Failure to Warn

Manufacturers have a legal responsibility to warn their customers about certain effects or dangers of using their product in a particular manner or environment. However, they do not have a responsibility to warn consumers about obvious things. For example, if you take a painkiller for your headache and then suffer a heart attack after consuming alcohol 20 minutes later, you may hold the painkiller manufacturer responsible. 

The reasoning behind the claim is that you did not know or would not have known that the painkiller reacted negatively with alcohol. You also need to prove that the manufacturer did not provide sufficient warning on the product about not drinking alcohol for a specific period after taking the painkiller. 

Breach of Warranty

Breach of warranty means that the product did not live up to its warranty. This category of product liability also falls under two other subcategories; expressed and implied warranty. Under expressed warranty, the consumer holds the manufacturer or any other liable party responsible if a product fails to live up to the warranty expressed by the manufacturer or third party, such as a retailer. 

On the other hand, implied means that you expect a product to function in a particular way even if the manufacturer does not state so. For instance, you expect a washing machine to wash your laundry or a shaving machine to shave your hair.

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  • How to Establish Responsibility for Product Liability

    Establishing the party at fault is one of the most difficult things to do in a product liability claim. This is because multiple parties may be involved in handling the product; from the manufacturer, marketer, distributor, retailer, and even the consumer, it may not be that easy to establish the party to blame for the injury.

    It is even more difficult for consumers to prove that a certain product was defective and that the injury was caused due to the defect. As a consumer, you may not be familiar with the complex manufacturing process. This makes it even more challenging to prove liability, especially without a product liability attorney. 

    The law recognizes this fact, and for this reason, you may no longer be required to prove that the product in question was defective. Instead, it will be the manufacturer's responsibility to prove that it was not. 

    The theory of strict liability applies in most states. This theory usually applies when there is negligence or breach of warranty of fitness.

    According to this theory, manufacturers are responsible for injuries caused by their products regardless of their intent or amount of reasonable care exercised during the manufacturing process. So, for example, even if a product had adequate security features, consumers can still file a claim if they got injured while using the product as intended. 

    But this also does not mean that you, as the consumer, automatically win the lawsuit. Instead, you will have to prove that:

    • you suffered the injury while using the product in question;
    • the product in question was defective when sold to you by the defendant;
    • the defendant is actively involved in the product (manufacturing, distributing, or selling);
    • the defect in the product made it unreasonably dangerous to you, as the consumer;
    • the defective condition was the proximate cause of your injury;
    • the product had not been substantially altered between the time the defendant distributed or sold it and the time of the injury.

    In product liability law, a product is considered 'unreasonably dangerous' if it is dangerous beyond what an ordinary consumer expects. A good example is the 2014 GM Motors ignition switch recall

    The multi-billion automotive company recalled several of its vehicles due to ignition switch problems. According to the recall, the vehicles listed had ignition switches that could potentially slip out of position, shutting down the car's engine and disabling the power steering and brakes. This could obviously lead to a crash. Even worse, the recall claimed that the airbags on such vehicles may fail to deploy in the event of an accident. 

    As a result, GM reportedly recalled 30 million cars and paid more than $870 million as compensation for death and injury claims. They also spent more than $900 million to settle a federal criminal investigation.

    Using the GM recall as an example, the vehicles listed in the recall were considered 'unreasonably dangerous.' Again, this is because consumers would not know about such problems, and if they did, they would not purchase the vehicles in the first place. 

  • The Concept of Causation Explained

    'Causation' is yet another common term used in product liability claims as an important requirement in proving liability. To prove that the defendant is liable for your injury, you must prove that the defective condition was the cause of the injury. 

    Causation further falls under two subcategories: producing and proximate cause. 

    Producing Cause

    In layman's terms, producing cause refers to injuries sustained by conditions that are not naturally foreseeable. Although the product might be defective, causing injuries to the consumer, the defendant could not have predicted the defective condition. 

    For instance, when a soft drink company advertises a particular new drink for the summer, they may not be aware that the bottle holding the drink would explode when exposed to a certain temperature. So if you suffer injuries as a result of an exploding soft drink bottle in your car in the summer, you can still file a claim against the manufacturer. 

    Proximate Cause

    Proximate cause refers to the action of the individual or entity that owes you a duty and is sufficiently related to your injury to a point where the law considers them liable for the injury. In product liability claims, proximate cause is proven when a product has a defect that a person exercising reasonable care would have foreseen. For example, a live wire on a hairdryer can electrocute the user if the hairdryer is plugged into an electrical outlet and switched on.

    Suppose the user suffers severe injuries from the electrocution. In that case, the live wire is considered a proximate cause because it is directly related to the injury. Secondly, it could have been avoided had the manufacturer exercised care while assembling the product.

  • How to File a Product Liability Claim

    Unlike other areas of personal injury, product liability claims are among the most difficult to settle. For this reason, it is not always advisable to file a product liability claim without the help of an attorney. 

    This is because, as a consumer, the odds are against you when filing a product liability claim, even if you have reason to believe an individual or entity has acted negligently in producing, distributing, or selling that particular product. There are so many technical issues involved in filing such a claim, which are also expensive to keep up with.

    For instance, when required to prove that a particular product had a defective design, you may need the intervention of an expert. This expert will reconstruct 3D diagrams of the product, trying to convince the other party that the injury was avoidable in the presence of a particular feature or design. 

    Then there is the issue of proving that the product's defective condition caused the injury - this is usually one of the most difficult aspects. This is because when a product shifts hands from the manufacturer to the seller, you may not be able to establish the exact party responsible for your injury, even if the product is confirmed to be defective. 

    Take a look at the GM recall as an example. One claim was dismissed after it was determined that even though the plaintiff had been involved in an accident while driving one of the vehicles subject to the recall, the accident had nothing to do with the recall. Instead, it was established that bad weather conditions caused the accident and that at least 30 other vehicles had been involved in similar accidents around the same time, none of which had anything to do with the recall. 

    This proves that hiring an attorney increases your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome. The attorney will help investigate the incident and determine whether you have a case against the defendant.

    This also explains why reputable personal injury law firms like Morgan & Morgan offer free consultation regardless of the nature of your claim. Such an opportunity makes it possible to review your claim and decide the next steps forward. If it is established that you have a case against the defendant, Morgan & Morgan will advise you on the dos and don'ts of filing a product liability claim.

    An experienced product liability attorney will be assigned to your case, teaming up with other legal experts to build a strong case against the defendant. Throughout the entire process, Morgan & Morgan will keep you informed about the claim's progress, and if necessary, the claim may proceed to court.

    Products liability claims are not the easiest to settle - you need an experienced product liability attorney to fight for your rights. So call us today at 877 582 9041 to speak with one of our attorneys.

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