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Product Liability

There are many examples in our consumer-driven society of manufacturers selling defective products that injure or kill consumers.

Over 20 million vehicles were recalled over the past months because of defective Takata air bags that can explode when deploying. The air bags have been linked with at least 10 deaths and over 100 injuries.

In the 1990s, defective Firestone tires were a factor in crashes resulting in at least 200 deaths and 700 serious injuries. At least 100 people died in crashes related to the defective General Motors (GM) ignition switch, and hundreds allegedly developed bladder cancer after taking the type 2 diabetes medication, Actos. Hundreds more had to go through revision surgery to replace defective metal-on-metal hip replacements, and many were rushed to the emergency room with injuries from severe burns after using defective gel fuel patio firepots.

Despite the fact that manufacturers are responsible for ensuring the safety of their products, defective products cause injuries and deaths every year. When disaster occurs because of manufacturer’s or retailer’s negligence, victims deserve to be compensated. If you or someone you love was injured or killed because of a defective product, call us. We may be able to help.

What Is Product Liability?

Product liability is the process of holding a manufacturer or seller liable for placing a defective product into a consumer’s hands, or for doing so without providing adequate warnings about the risks associated with that product. The applicable law is state law-either statutory or common law. Typically manufacturers are held strictly liable for defects in their products that existed when they were sold.

Though all products are different, in general, they are expected to meet the ordinary expectations of the consumer, in terms of safety and efficacy. If it’s discovered after the product is on the market that it creates an unexpected danger, or has an unexpected defect that can lead to injury, the manufacturer has failed to meet its responsibilities under the law.

Before selling a product, a manufacturer is required to properly design, test, and inspect it, for as long as is necessary to iron out all the kinks, so to speak, to make sure it is fit for its intended purpose. If manufacturers discover defects during testing, they are expected to design them out of the product, safeguard against them or if that is not possible, warn against them before allowing the product on the market.

Even after the product has been released, if post-sale testing reveals the product to have a previously unknown defect or that it could potentially create harm to consumers, it is the manufacturer’s responsibility typically to either recall the product, fix the problem, or at the very least, create visible warnings so that consumers are aware of the risk.

If a company fails to do any of the above and a consumer is injured or killed, the company can be held liable for damages.

Types of Product Liability

There are three basic types of product liability claims that victims can make against a defective product:

  1. Defective design
  2. Defective manufacture
  3. Failure to provide adequate warnings or instructions concerning the use of the products, and any potential risks of using it

Defective Design
If a product is defectively designed, it means something is wrong or unsafe with the product itself. In other words, even if it’s made correctly and with the best quality materials, it’s still going to remain defective and potentially dangerous because of its design.

In the case of defective GM ignition switches, for example, these switches were defectively designed to turn to the “off” position in response to any slight jiggle or bump, robbing the car of air bags, steering, and power brakes, and potentially resulting in serious injuries or death.

Another example could be a ladder that was not designed to support the weight it was intended to support, a treadmill that has no automatic shut-off mechanism should the runner accidentally fall, or a hoverboard that gets too hot while at rest, and explodes.

Manufacturing Defect
If a product was safe as designed, but then in the course of manufacturing, something went wrong to make it unsafe, there may be a defective manufacturing claim. This is all about the process of assembling or making the product, the materials used, how the product is put together, the plant where the product is made (and its cleanliness, for example), and any issues during shipping or transportation.

Unlike a design defect claim, a manufacturing defect typically involves only a limited number of the products produced, often from one single plant or other manufacturing location.

Some examples of defective manufacturing may include product contamination during manufacturing (such as a food item that becomes contaminated with bacteria or another harmful substance), a home oxygen tank that leaks, a bicycle with a crack in the frame that later buckles under a consumer’s weight, a swing set with a broken chain, or a wine with defective coating.

Failure to Warn
If the manufacturers failed to provide adequate warnings about the safe use of the product, and a consumer was injured as a result, they may be able to file a failure to warn claim. The manufacturer is responsible for making sure that the consumer fully understands how to use the product safely, and what risks may be associated with its use. They are also required to warn against foreseeable misuses of the product.

An example of failure to warn is a household chemical that fails to warn of potential burns if allowed to touch or remain on skin. Other examples include over-the-counter drugs that fail to provide maximum dosage warnings; prescription drugs that fail to warn of additional risks they may cause to certain populations, such as those who already have kidney problems or heart disease; and a cigarette package that fails to warn that the product may cause mouth disease in addition to lung cancer.

In a failure-to-warn case, the plaintiff must show that the danger wasn’t obvious. In other words, a case against a match manufacturer claiming they failed to warn that the product was flammable would likely be dismissed. But certainly customers don’t expect their hoverboards to explode while charging—the manufacturer of such a hoverboard could be held liable for failure to warn (and defective design as well, most likely).

The plaintiff must also show that he or she was using the product in a necessary foreseeable way. In other words, someone who takes double the prescription of a drug and ends up injured may not have a viable case, but one who took the drug as expected and suffered a heart attack as a result could potentially file a product liability lawsuit if clinical trials indicated a risk, but the manufacturer failed to provide a warning about it.

Finally, the warning must be visible and clearly worded to be considered adequate. If it is buried at the end of a stack of paperwork and is in small print, for example, it may be legally inadequate.

Who is Liable in a Product Liability Lawsuit?

Typically it is the manufacturer who is liable for any of these issues, but there can be exceptions, or potentially other parties that may share in liability:

  • Retailer: The store where you bought the product may share in liability.
  • Wholesaler or Distributor: Other parties along the supply or sale chain may also share in the responsibility for the accident or injury. Wholesalers, distributors, suppliers, and others, depending on their involvement in the creation and delivery of the product, may be named as defendants in a product liability lawsuit.
  • Simple Ingredient Supplies: These companies typically are not liable but a detailed evaluation of their actions must be undertaken.

An example may include the car dealership where the victim bought the defective vehicle as well as the manufacturer of that vehicle, or the pharmacy that sold the victim the prescription as well as the manufacturer of the drug.

How a Product Liability Lawyer Can Help

If you or a loved one suffered an injury or wrongful death because of a defective product, contact the product liability lawyers at Chaffin Luhana for help. We have years of experience in these types of cases, and we fiercely advocate for plaintiffs who were injured. We will fully investigate the case and pursue all avenues of potential compensation for you and your family.

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