At Morgan & Morgan, our product liability attorneys are well-versed in the laws that protect consumers against the harm posed by defective products. When a consumer sustains an injury due to a defective product, a number of parties can be held liable for releasing a product that they knew or should have known posed a risk to users.
The jurisdiction in which the product liability case is filed will determine the liability of those involved in the chain of commerce as the defective product passes from the manufacturer to the consumer. A person or company can be held liable for a number of products ranging from faulty medical devices to foods that cause food poisoning.
If you or someone you know has been injured by a defective product, you may be entitled to compensation. The attorneys at our law firm have a successful history of litigating product liability cases and recovering compensation for their clients. To see if our lawyers can help you, please fill out our no cost, no obligation case review form today.
Manufacturing, Design, and Marketing Defects
If someone is injured by a defective product, they may have grounds to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer, wholesaler, or distributer, depending on the type of defect. The two primary categories of product defects under federal law are design defects and manufacturing defects.
These are caused by an error in assembly and are not intended to be part of the product. This type of defect will typically only be found in a small percentage of a company's manufactured goods. Based on the theory of strict liability, a manufacturer is liable for any manufacturing defects that occur as a result of faulty construction, regardless of whether they took care throughout the manufacturing process. The plaintiff needs to prove that the defect allegedly responsible for their injury was present at the time of departure from the factory where the good was produced.
A design defect is a flaw in the original blueprint of a product that causes it to be unreasonably dangerous and creates a hazard for potential users. This type of defect will typically be found in all of a company's manufactured products.
Three questions are asked to determine whether a design defect exists:
- Was the product’s design unreasonably dangerous prior to production?
- Was it plausible to anticipate the design of the product could harm a potential user?
- Could the manufacturer have used a superior design that was economically feasible and would not alter the purpose of the product?
If any of these questions are answered affirmatively, the injured party may have grounds for a design defect claim and should contact one of our attorneys as soon as possible.
Failure to Warn
A products liability lawsuit can also be brought for a manufacturer’s 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, when followed properly, caused the injury.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the organization responsible for maintaining rules and regulations for safety symbols and product safety signs and labels, heavily amended their warning label guidelines in 2002. The revised standards endorse signs that are easier to read, offer a more detailed explanation, and illustrate the safety risks with pictures.
According to ANSI, a warning label should:
- Inform the consumer of existing hazards
- Inform the consumer of the severity of the risk involved with the particular product
- Inform the consumer of the effects of the hazard
- Inform the consumer how to avoid the hazard
A warning should 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. To identify the level of severity of a hazard, ANSI has assigned three color-coded keywords to alert the consumer:
- Danger (red) - an impending hazardous event that will end in serious injury or death.
- Warning (orange) - a potentially hazardous circumstance that may end in serious injury or death.
- Caution (yellow) - a potentially hazardous condition that could end in moderate or slight injury.
One of these keywords, along with the description of the hazard, is to be laid out on a square white background to enhance visibility. Underneath the keyword, the section of the label dedicated to the description should be broken down into two panels, including a symbol or graphics section (e.g., red circle with a slash through a depiction of an act of carelessness) and a message section highlighting information pertinent to the hazard.
Questions to determine the adequacy of the warning label include:
- Was it likely the product would cause harm?
- Was the product being used in the manner for which it was intended?
- How serious was the harm?
- What knowledge level could the manufacturer presume the user had? (The level of duty to warn changes with the level of complexity of the product.)
- How much did the label rely on the experience and knowledge of the user?
- Was the warning simple and clear enough to understand?
Types of Product Liability Lawsuits
Generally, there are three types of product liability cases.
Negligence: The claimant must show that carelessness in the design or manufacture of the product led to his or her injuries. The injured party first must demonstrate that the defendant had a duty to sell a safe product. The consumer then must show that the defendant breached this duty. A "breach of duty" can be shown if the plaintiff can prove that the defendant knew or should have known that the product was defective. The plaintiff must also prove that the defective product caused their injuries.
There are many facets of product development in which negligence can occur, including, but not limited to:
- Drawing up or reviewing product plans
- Maintaining machines responsible for fabricating various components of the product
- Failing to foresee plausible uses for the product
- Failing to inspect or test the product sufficiently
- Releasing the product to the mainstream too hastily
Strict Liability: 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 exists 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. For strict liability to apply, the product must have been purchased in the 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.
- Express Warranty: Any representation about the product and its safety made by the manufacturer or retailer.
- Implied Warranty: An implied promise by the manufacturer (or other liable party) that the product, if used as intended, will not cause any harm.
The breach of warranty cause of action covers any person who would reasonably be expected to use to product.
When Is a Class Action Lawsuit Appropriate?
Product liability lawsuits can be filed alone, or as part of a class action if the defective product injured a large number of people in the same manner. In a product liability class action lawsuit, a small group of people will represent upwards of thousands of people who have suffered similar injuries. Filing or joining a class action may be appropriate when the amount of damages each plaintiff receives would be nominal and where the potential value of an individual suit would not outweigh the legal costs involved. A class action lawsuit is not normally used when consumers have suffered severe or unique injuries.
Food Poisoning and Product Liability
The number of product liability claims based on food-borne illnesses and food poisoning has been on the rise. Food poisoning and food-injury related claims are typically brought as product liability actions. Claims can be filed against anyone in the chain of distribution, from the manufacturer to the retailer, as well as any party who handles the food during this transition.
One of the biggest hurdles in a food poisoning product liability case is connecting the injury to the food. In most cases, the food will have been consumed or thrown away by the time the food poisoning or injury manifests. Evidence that can help to prove causation can include samples of food from the same batch from the manufacturer or supplier, evidence of bacteria or microorganisms in both the victim and the food supply, or, if possible, the actual product that was consumed.
A product liability attorney can help to collect the evidence necessary to substantiate your claim, as well as determine under which cause of action you should proceed.
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; any party involved in a defective product's chain of distribution may be held accountable through a product liability lawsuit. When beginning to put together a claim for a defective product, it is important to include any party involved in the chain of distribution.
Manufacturer: This can include a large multi-national company, an individual working out of his or her garage, or any parties involved in the design or marketing of the product. Depending on the size of the product, claimants can include the manufacturer of the defective part, as well as the manufacturer of the entire product.
Retailer: When a retailer advertises an item for sale, it is impliedly ensuring the product is safe and suitable for use. If a consumer purchases a defective product, the seller of that item, even though they were not involved in its manufacture, can be held liable for damages.
When suing a retailer:
- You don’t have to be the one who bought the defective product
- You don’t have to be the one who used the defective product
- You might be able to recover compensation for used products (depending on the product, nature of the defect, and state law)
Wholesaler: The wholesaler is considered the “middleman” between the manufacturer and the retailer.
Any or all of the above parties could be held liable for damages resulting from an injury caused by a defective product.
What Damages Can an Attorney Help Me Recover in a Product Liability Lawsuit?
Damages for injuries caused by defective merchandise are typically compensatory, special, or punitive. When a product liability lawsuit is successful, the plaintiff may be eligible for damages covering:
- Medical costs, both present and future
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional anguish
Compensatory Damages: These damages are intended to make the plaintiff “whole” again after the accident or injury. They can be split into two different categories: actual and general.
Special Damages: These damages reimburse the plaintiff for any calculable out-of-pocket expenses or financial losses, including the following: medical and hospital bills, lost wages, cost of substitute transportation and the cost to repair or replace damaged property.
General Damages: These damages attempt to reimburse the plaintiff for losses that cannot be easily calculated, monetarily. These typically include the following: pain and suffering, mental anguish, medical expenses, value of future lost wages, loss of consortium and loss of life’s enjoyment.
Elements of a Successful Product Liability Claim
In a product liability lawsuit, plaintiffs are required to prove the following elements in a negligence claim:
The plaintiff was injured or suffered losses: The plaintiff must show actual injury or monetary loss as a result of using the defective product. Without actual injury or damage, there is no claim.
The product is defective: The plaintiff must prove that the product either had a design defect or manufacturing defect, or that the company failed to warn of the risks of the product.
The defect was the actual and proximate cause of the injury: The injury sustained must have been caused by the defect itself. The defective product must also be the proximate cause of the injury. Thus, the defendant will not be liable where an intervening act supersedes the defective product as the proximate cause of the injury.
The product was being used as intended: The product must have been used in a way the manufacturer intended to be used or in a way the manufacturer could expect a reasonable person to use it.
Injuries resulting from defective products can result in substantial physical, emotional, and financial stress. If you or someone you know has been injured by a faulty or defective product, the attorneys at our office may be able to help. To contact one of our product liability attorneys, please fill out our no charge, no obligation case review form today.