All products are assumed to have undergone rigid testing before they are released on the market. However, sometimes products can fail, leading to injuries or even death. Commonly, product liability claims are for medications, medical devices, auto parts, garden equipment, children’s toys, and home improvement equipment.
Proving the existence of injury-causing defects
A defective product liability claim based on injuries caused by a defective item can be fought in various legal directions. Most often, claims fall under the strict liability principle, but sometimes negligence is deemed more appropriate. Depending on the state the claim is made in, the approach may differ.
There is a difference between strict liability and negligence. With strict liability, the injured party is not required to show the defendant acted carelessly. With negligence, this element must be shown.
Regardless of whether the consumer forms the basis of the claim on strict liability, negligence, or another theory, they must prove that at least one of three types of defects occurred. These defects are manufacturing, design, and marketing (failures to warn about dangers or instructions on the proper use).
Besides proving the existence of a defect, the consumer must also show that the defect caused the injury.
Types of product liability claims
The basic types of product liability claims follow the same fundamental laws in all the states.
1. Manufacturing Defects in Products
Manufacturing problems are the simplest type of defect. The way a product is made at its assembly line may lead to a defect that the rest of the batch might not have. Sometimes, the manufacturer may have deviated from the actual design. The injury must be caused by one of these two manufacturing defects.
Examples of defects in manufactured products include:
- Malfunctioning brakes
- Tainted medication
- Cracked chain of a swing
- Faulty parts on a lawn trimmer
2. Design Defects in Products
The manufacturing process is not always at fault. Sometimes, an entire line of products is dangerous despite the care the manufacturer takes to produce them. This occurs when the design blueprint or specifications for a product does not take risks into account. From state to state, the legal test for establishing a design defect varies. Therefore, victims usually need to retain an expert that can show the design was unsafe. Often, these experts will show that a safer alternative was possible at a similar cost.
Examples of design defects in products include:
- Sunglasses that don’t protect from the harmful rays of the sun.
- Electric gadgets that electrocute if set too high.
- SUVs that may roll over because of a design defect.
- Internal medical devices that break when inserted, causing injuries.
3. Failure to warn
All products must come with appropriate instructions on how to use them. Manufacturers must also warn consumers about inherent risks that are not obvious or require special precautions or diligence when using them. Obvious risks like falling off a ladder or a sharp knife are not considered a marketing defect. If they fail to provide this, a product liability claim based on a marketing defect is possible.
Examples of failure to warn include:
- Medications and their side effects.
- Unsafe chemicals used in household products may cause burns.
- Oddly positioned steam valve on an electric kettle.
4. Failing to live up to the written warranty
If a product has a written warranty but fails to meet the terms, consumers can claim for what is known as a breach of contract. The warranty can either be implied on the packaging, labeling, in a manual, or when advertising the product.
Sometimes, the state also applies a warranty to specific products, whether the manufacturer or distributor does not. In that case, a claim based on a breach of implied warranty might arise because the product is not fit for the purpose it is sold. This is known as the implied warranty of merchantability.
If a buyer is buying a product for a specific purpose, but the seller gives them the wrong product for that purpose, the buyer can claim product liability for an implied warranty of fitness.
Example of implied warranty of merchantability and implied warranty of fitness:
If a power drill states on the packaging that it is suitable for all materials but only drills certain materials, this can lead to a design or manufacturing defect claim. The consumer can also claim for an implied warranty of merchantability.
Then again, if the consumer is sold the all-purpose drill at the hardware store but cannot drill through metal, he can claim an implied warranty of fitness.
Understanding the differences between the four types of product liability claims can help consumers identify and decide how they want to proceed against faulty products.