Product Liability Law
Guide to Defective Products Law
What is Product Liability Law?
Product liability law provides legal recourse for victims of defective products. Individuals who are injured by an item that was improperly designed, manufactured, or packaged can seek compensation under several different theories, all of which fall under this area of the law. Most claimants in product liability cases will attempt to recover under the theory of strict liability. Only where the elements of strict liability are not met will claimants resort to the alternative theories of negligence, breach of warranty, or fraudulent misrepresentation.
Strict liability is the preferred theory for asserting a defective product claim because it does not require a showing of fault. That is, there is no need for the plaintiff to prove that the defendant did anything wrong. All that the plaintiff must establish is that the product that caused his or her injury was defective when it left the hands of the defendant. Once this is established, the burden of proof shifts to the manufacturer or other defendant to attempt to show why it should not be held responsible.
Potential Claimants and Liable Entities
Of course, not everyone hurt by a manufactured item is allowed to bring a strict liability lawsuit to recover damages. In order to bring a claim, it must have been foreseeable that someone in the plaintiff’s position could have been hurt by the defective product. Foreseeable victims are not limited to customers who actually purchased the item. Thus, bystanders who happen to be near a product when it malfunctions can bring a claim for their injuries. But people hurt in odd scenarios that the manufacturer never could have anticipated cannot.
In order to bring a claim for strict liability, the plaintiff must also have been making an “anticipated use” of the product. An anticipated use is a broad classification, and it can include activities beyond the intended use of the item. For example, chairs are meant for sitting, yet someone hurt while standing on a defective chair can bring a claim, because it is common knowledge that people occasionally stand on chairs. The same is true of a driver injured by a car that malfunctioned at 80 mph, since car companies should anticipate that drivers might exceed the speed limit.
A typical product liability case based on strict liability will name multiple defendants. Basically, the plaintiff can sue everyone in the chain of distribution from the time the product was conceived until it was purchased by the user who was injured. Liable entities can include design companies, parts manufacturers, assembly plants, marketing firms, suppliers, and retailers. The test is whether the entity is a commercial seller who regularly deals in goods of that type. Accordingly, someone who unknowingly sells a defective product at a garage sale will not be liable.
Establishing that a Product is Defective
The cornerstone of a product liability case is proving the existence of a defect that made the product dangerous. To understand this element, it helps to consider the issue of defectiveness in light of the affirmative duties the law imposes on commercial manufacturers and sellers of products. First, they must design products to be safe. If the plaintiff can show that an alternative design is available and economically feasible, the product responsible for the injury will be said to have a design defect. This type of defect exists even when the product is made as intended.
Sometimes a product is designed to be safe, but the particular item that caused harm to the plaintiff was not made correctly. This is known as a manufacturing defect. These situations involve the “one in a million” product that came off the factory floor in a defective and dangerous condition, without the defendant noticing.
Even if a product is designed and manufactured to be as safe as possible, it may still be inherently dangerous. Dangerous products can be sold, but the purchaser must receive proper instructions and warnings. The manufacturer’s failure to satisfy this duty to warn is yet another way a product can be found defective. It is often referred to as a marketing or packaging defect.
Additional Theories of Liability
While strict liability is the first choice of products liability claimants, it is not the only means for obtaining compensation. Entities in the chain of distribution of a defective product can also be held liable for negligence if they acted carelessly and the plaintiff was injured as a result. A product may also be covered by express or implied warranties, the breach of which can form the basis for a lawsuit. There are also instances of manufacturers and sellers intentionally misrepresenting the characteristics of their products. A plaintiff who relied on the defendant’s assertion that the product was safe may have a claim for common law fraud.
Choosing a Products Liability Attorney
Litigating a product liability case requires not only the ability to make sense of complex technical data, but also the skill to explain a product’s defect to the jury in common sense terms. If you have been hurt by a dangerous product, take care to select a law firm with a proven history of success in this specialized area of the law.
Know Your Rights!
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Articles on HG.org Related to Product Liability Law
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Product Liability Law - US
- ABA - Product Liability Law Committee
We are an open, friendly and diverse Committee, combining lawyers of all ages and backgrounds, who come from around the country and work in different practice settings. We are not so large that you will feel lost in the crowd; and large enough with enthusiasm to spare to mount significant CLE programs and other member benefits.
- Global Liability Issues
As the twenty-first century unfolds and commerce becomes more and more globalized, there is a need to harmonize the law of products liability across nations. So far, unfortunately, efforts at harmonization have too often been in the direction of reproducing the costly features of United States tort doctrines—doctrines that have imposed spiraling costs on American manufacturers.
- Products Liability Law and Cases
This website was created to help lawyers investigate potential automobile defect cases and other product liability claims. Using this website as a resource should help you make an initial determination about whether there is a product liability case.
- Restatement of Torts - Product Liability Law
In 1997, the American Law Institute ("ALI") adopted the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability ("Restatement (Third)"). (3) After over thirty years as the definitive, yet somewhat confusing road map along the products liability highway, the Restatement (Second) of Torts ("Restatement (Second)") was turned on its head. Before new case law involving the Restatement (Third) has been given a chance to develop, commentators have risen either to praise the Restatement (Third) as a clear guide to the chaotic products liability maze, (4) or to reject it as a pro-defense, industry-favoring curtailment of manufacturer liability.
Product Liability Law - Europe
- Overview of Product Liability Law - UK
There are instances when some products may be faulty or defected and as a result they cause serious personal injury to consumers. This is why there is a need for a stringent product liability law to be in place.
- Risk Assessment and Product Liability in the European Union
The legal concept of product liability is the same in the European Union as it is in the United States, although the scale of award in the United States is considerably higher.
Product Liability Law - International
- ALFA Product Liability Practice Group
The ALFA Product Liability Practice Group (the “Group”) is one of the most active of the ALFA International Practice Groups. Membership in this Group includes 175 lawyers from 80 member firms. This network of product liability lawyers is well-suited for clients whose products are distributed and used nationwide or worldwide
- Convention of 2 October 1973 on the Law Applicable to Products Liability
This Convention shall determine the law applicable to the liability of the manufacturers and other persons specified in Article 3 for damage caused by a product, including damage in consequence of a misdescription of the product or of a failure to give adequate notice of its qualities, its characteristics or its method of use. Where the property in, or the right to use, the product was transferred to the person suffering damage by the person claimed to be liable, the Convention shall not apply to their liability inter se. This Convention shall apply irrespective of the nature of the proceedings.
Organizations Related to Product Liability Law
- American National Standards Institute
As the voice of the U.S. standards and conformity assessment system, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) empowers its members and constituents to strengthen the U.S. marketplace position in the global economy while helping to assure the safety and health of consumers and the protection of the environment.
- International Organization for Standardization
ISO is a non-governmental organization that forms a bridge between the public and private sectors. On the one hand, many of its member institutes are part of the governmental structure of their countries, or are mandated by their government. On the other hand, other members have their roots uniquely in the private sector, having been set up by national partnerships of industry associations.
- US Consumer Product Safety Commission
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of serious injury or death from more than 15,000 types of consumer products under the agency's jurisdiction. Deaths, injuries and property damage from consumer product incidents cost the nation more than $800 billion annually. The CPSC is committed to protecting consumers and families from products that pose a fire, electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazard or can injure children. The CPSC's work to ensure the safety of consumer products contributed significantly to the 30 percent decline in the rate of deaths and injuries associated with consumer products over the past 30 years.
Publications Related to Product Liability Law
- ABA - Product Liability Law News
Latest news on Product Liability law presented by the ABA.
- Law Journal Newsletters Product Liability Law and Strategy Journal
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- Product Liability Publications - Institute for Civil Justice
The ICJ has continued its efforts to understand the tangible economic effects of product liability suits by studying effects on product sales, stock prices, and media coverage in the automobile industry. This research has revealed that, although product liability verdicts generate substantial press coverage, particularly when juries award punitive damages, verdicts do not typically dampen sales.
- Short History of Product Liability Law
The topic of product liability law arises so often in the media today that some brief explanation of its scope, origins, and impact might prove useful. This short essay is intended to be a primer for those who appreciate the importance of the topic, but would like some guidance on how to think about it more rigorously.