Product liability is an area of law that holds product designers, manufacturers, and distributors responsible for injuries caused by their products. Product liability can have broad connotations. However, the majority of product liability cases include tangible property. These cases most typically occur when a consumer sustains an unexpected injury due a defect in the product, such as a design or manufacturing defect. It is estimated that roughly 30 million injuries take place each year due to defective products. Companies spend an estimated $500 billion each year compensating consumers who were injured by their products.
Types of Product Liability
There are three main types of defects over which product liability lawsuits occur: defective product design, defective product manufacturing, and defective product marketing. When each of these types of product liability lawsuits is filed, the respective entities are the defendants, or parties being sued. For example, in a defective manufacturing lawsuit, the company that physically built the defective item may be held responsible.
Defective design is a type of product liability that discusses the nature of a product. By design, the entire product line is fundamentally flawed. This flaw makes the product innately dangerous to all consumers. When defective design product liability lawsuits are successful, the product may be discontinued or the design may be altered for the sake of public safety.
Examples of defectively designed products include:
- A particular make and model of a vehicle line that is likely to flip during sharp turns
- A line of plastic gas cans that has been known to explode when used too closely to a heat source
- A gun model with a faulty fire control system, which results in firing without pulling the gun’s trigger
Defective manufacturing typically refers to a single item that happened to be manufactured in a faulty way, which led to the consumer’s injury. Defective manufacturing differs from defective design in that the design of the product when manufactured as intended is most likely non-hazardous for public use. Defective manufacturing may be caused by elements such as low-quality building materials and poor or negligent workmanship during the manufacturing process.
Examples of manufacturing defects may include:
- A manufactured, distributed, and sold scooter that did not feature brake pads
- A bottle of aspirin which was contaminated by a toxic substance present in the manufacturing facility
- A defective seatbelt which fails to provide proper restraint during the impact of a car accident
Defective marketing is also referred to as “failure to warn.” This means that consumers were not properly and effectively warned of any inherent dangers that may occur from using a particular product. Entities that take part in manufacturing safety instructions and creating marketing materials for a product are responsible for ensuring that consumers understand any associated dangers. By adequately warning consumers of dangers, these entities may waive the liability of injuries that occurred even after warnings. Failure to warn product liability lawsuits do not pertain to the design or manufacturing of a product.
Examples of defective marketing, or failure to warn, may be seen in:
- A medication that causes dangerous side effects which are not listed on the product warning label
- A household cleaning solution that becomes toxic after contact with a reasonably safe substance such as water, but the safety warning fails to include this information
Filing a Product Liability Lawsuit
Consumers who are injured by a certain product may be eligible to earn financial compensation through a product liability lawsuit. There are three main theories that must typically be proven in order to win a product liability lawsuit. These theories are breach of warranty, negligence, and strict liability. These theories are applied to the different types of product liability defects.
Product Liability Theories
Breach of warranty claims state that the defendant violated a commercial statement, or warranty, of the product. Negligence claims state that the defendant acted negligently or carelessly, which led to the plaintiff’s injury. Strict liability claims state that negligence is irrelevant because the defendant is responsible for the product’s ability to injure regardless of the defendant’s behavior.
Jones, Annie Butterworth. “Court releases product liability opinion.” Florida Bar News 15 June 2012: 16. Academic OneFile. Web. 25 Mar. 2014.
McDowell, LaTrice N., Patricia A. Sexton, and Adam T. Suroff. “Recent developments in products liability law.” Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Law Journal Fall 2011: 415+. Academic OneFile. Web. 25 Mar. 2014.
“Products Liability.” Legal Information Institute. Cornell University Law School, 19 Aug 2010. Web. 25 Mar. 2014. <http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/products_liability>.