Product liability claims fall under different categories, depending on the cause of the injuries suffered by the victim. Knowing the specific category a product liability claim falls under helps create the best legal strategy to file a successful claim or lawsuit. This article discusses some popular categories and examples of product liability cases under each category.
Defective Design Product Liability Claims
As the name suggests, this kind of product liability claim seeks compensation for injuries sustained while using a product with a defective design. To win such a claim, the plaintiff will have to prove to the court that the product in question had a flawed design. Also, they have to prove that the injury could have been avoided if the product had been properly designed.
The product must also be considered 'unreasonably dangerous.' This means that it could not perform its functions safely as any ordinary consumer would expect when used as intended, in a manner reasonably foreseeable by the manufacturer, or if the product's risks outweighed its benefits.
What Does 'Reasonably Foreseeable' Mean in a Product Liability Claim?
The term 'reasonably foreseeable' describes how ordinary consumers of a product are likely to use (or misuse) the product. The manufacturer's responsibility is to consider these two factors before selling that particular product.
By considering how consumers are likely to use or misuse a product, manufacturers can create the appropriate warnings for the product, effectively minimizing the risks of product liability cases. Such warnings appear in areas where consumers can easily see them. For visibility reasons, they are usually printed against bright backgrounds, such as red, yellow, and green.
The plaintiff may be held responsible for modifying the product before use or misuse in some cases. In that case, the two parties involved (plaintiff and defendant) may be required to share responsibility for the injury. This approach is commonly known as comparative fault law, which applies in many states, such as California.
In comparative fault law, the court may decide the fault based on percentages. So, for example, if the plaintiff is 30% responsible for the injury, the defendant will only need to settle 70% of the agreed settlement amount.
Example of a Defective Design Product Liability Claim
John decides to cut grass in the summer using a lawnmower he recently bought, unaware that it was defective. Unfortunately, he loses his toes to a blade located under the lawnmower while cutting the grass. John will need special surgery to reconstruct his toes, special medical shoes to accommodate his new condition, and probably will no longer be able to drive his car for years.
In such a case, John may be eligible for compensation by filing a defective design product liability claim against the lawnmower manufacturer. However, for the claim to be successful, it must meet certain conditions, known as the elements of a product liability claim.
Such elements include:
Source of Injury
John (or his attorney) will have to prove that the lawnmower caused the injury. However, the defendant will most likely refuse to take legal responsibility if other potentially dangerous items are involved during the injury. For instance, if there were broken pieces of glass on the ground when John was cutting the grass, the defendant could argue that the glass caused or contributed to the injury.
Therefore, just because a defective product harmed you does not necessarily mean the other party's insurance company will accept your claim. Insurance companies will also have their attorneys and claims adjusters seeking any possible reason to avoid legal responsibility for compensating the victims.
Condition of the Product
Besides the injury, the plaintiff must also prove that the product was defective. In this case, John must prove that the lawnmower had a defective design. The plaintiff must also prove that the injury could have been avoided if the lawnmower had a better design. To prove this, the plaintiff may need to hire an expert to demonstrate how a different design could have prevented the injury.
The Defect Caused the Injury
The plaintiff should also narrow down to the specific cause of the injury. They will have to prove that the specific design defect caused the injury. In most cases, the defendant won't accept responsibility if the injury was caused by something else other than the defective design.
However, this does not necessarily mean they are not liable for anything if the injury was not caused by a defective design. It is still possible to file a claim for such injuries; however, under defective design product liability, the injury must be specifically caused by the product's defective design.
The Product Was Being Used as Intended
Using the lawnmower injury as an example, John must prove that he was using the lawnmower as intended. It is common knowledge that a lawnmower is intended to cut grass, so if the defendant establishes that John was using the lawnmower for something else other than cutting grass, it may be difficult to hold them responsible for the injury.
Manufacturing Defects Product Liability
In personal injury cases, the term 'design defect' is not the same as 'manufacturing defect.' The former refers to a defect in the product's design, while the latter focuses on a specific error made during the product's manufacturing process.
Here's an example:
While playing with a toy, a child chews a particular part of the toy and ingests large amounts of lead. The child is rushed to the hospital after showing signs of lead poisoning but unfortunately dies while undergoing treatment. In that case, the child's parents or guardians can sue the toy manufacturing company for the child's death.
Here's the reasoning behind this kind of lawsuit.
Even though the product (toy) appears to have a good design, someone needs to be held responsible for the toxic amounts of lead found in the toy, which led to the child's death. The lead had nothing to do with the product's design but a flaw in the manufacturing process. Someone down the manufacturing line should have inspected the product and detected the high amounts of lead, effectively preventing the toy's distribution.
It is a common procedure for products to pass through the quality control and inspection phase before being approved for supply in the market. Therefore, such a claim argues that the child's death could have been prevented had someone been keen enough while inspecting the product.
However, like other product liability claims, the plaintiff must also prove that the manufacturing defect caused the injury and that the product was being used as intended. So, for example, if the defendant discovers that the child ingested lead off paint from the wall, they may argue that this was the primary cause of the accident, even if the toy contained a particular amount of lead.
Additionally, the defendant may argue that the product was changed after it left the defendant's possession. In this case, they'll basically claim that the injury was caused by the plaintiff or another party other than the defendant.
Using the child's toy as an example, the defendant will not claim responsibility if they discover that the toy had been stored in places that contained high amounts of lead. For instance, if the toy came in contact with paint while in storage at the plaintiff's home, the defendant will most likely raise this issue to clear themselves from legal responsibility for the child's death.
Marketing Defect Product Liability Claim
Marketing defect, also known as failure to warn, is a common product liability claim. As the name suggests, failure to warn refers to the manufacturer's failure to inform the consumer of potential risks involved with using that particular product.
However, the manufacturer does not have to warn the consumer of obvious risks associated with using that particular product. For example, a knife manufacturer does not have to warn the buyer that the knife is sharp. Therefore, if the buyer accidentally chops off his finger while using the knife, it may be difficult to sue the knife manufacturer based on failure to warn.
Another example involves the use of a cigarette lighter. The manufacturer does not need to warn the user that the lighter poses a fire risk if not used carefully. For this reason, it may be difficult to sue the manufacturer if the user suffers severe burns or loses their property due to fire damage.
In some jurisdictions, the plaintiff must prove the following to file a successful marketing defect product liability claim:
- the defendant manufactured, distributed, and sold the product in question;
- the product had risks which the defendant knew or should have known;
- such risks were harmful to the consumer when the product was used (or misused) in an intended or reasonably foreseeable way;
- ordinary consumers of the product could not have known of the potential risks of using that particular product;
- the defendant neglected their obligation to warn consumers of the risks associated with that particular product;
- the plaintiff suffered injuries caused by the product in question.
Breach of Warranty
If you buy a product and it fails to work as it should, you may be able to file a breach of warranty claim against the manufacturer. In most jurisdictions, breach of warranty claims are based on two types of warranties, as discussed below.
In an express warranty claim, the plaintiff alleges that a product failed to live up to the warranty expressed by the manufacturer. For example, if you buy a TV that has a five-year warranty, the manufacturer expects the TV to work for at least five years with reasonable use. So if the TV fails to work three years later, you may have an express warranty claim against the manufacturer.
This involves the consumer's expectations regarding a particular product. For example, when you buy a phone, you expect to hear the other person on the line when you make phone calls. If that is not the case, then you may file an implied warranty claim against the phone manufacturer.
It is also important to note that the consumer must have realistic expectations of the product when it comes to an implied warranty. For example, you expect your new TV to connect to the internet if it is internet-enabled. However, if your internet connection is too weak or does not exist, you cannot file an implied warranty claim against the TV manufacturer.
What Are Some Common Damages for Product Liability Cases?
In product liability cases, you can claim damages for medical bills, lost wages, loss of earning potential, pain, and suffering, property damage, and so on. The exact damage depends on the extent of the injury. An experienced product liability attorney can evaluate your case and establish the kind of damages you are eligible for compensation.
Can the Plaintiff Recover Punitive Damages in a Product Liability Case?
Although punitive damages are difficult to obtain in product liability cases, the plaintiff may be awarded punitive damages for the defendant's negligence or recklessness. In addition, if the plaintiff proves that the defendant intentionally caused the injury, they may be granted such damages.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Product Liability Claims?
In most states, product liability claims should be filed within two years from the time when the injury occurred or should have been discovered. However, each state has its own unique statute of limitations, and it is always advisable to speak to an experienced product liability attorney before filing a claim.
Why You Need a Product Liability Attorney
Product liability cases are not the easiest to handle. As you've discovered, getting injured by a defective product is not always a guarantee that your claim will be successful. There is so much that goes into the whole process; hiring experts, interviewing witnesses, filing paperwork, researching laws, and so on. For this reason, you need a product liability attorney from a reputable law firm like Morgan & Morgan, the largest injury law firm in the United States, to fight for your rights.
Call us today at (206) 830-6160 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced product liability attorneys!