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?