Product liability, a term you’re likely to encounter when dealing with consumer products, holds a significant role in consumer protection laws. But exactly what is product liability?
Here, we unravel the complexities of product liability, its types, and how it affects consumers and businesses alike.
Defining Product Liability
Product liability refers to a legal principle where manufacturers, distributors, and sellers become liable when their products cause harm to consumers. This liability arises regardless of the involved party’s intent or knowledge about the product’s defect.
Under the umbrella, businesses are held accountable for ensuring the safety and functionality of their products.
The Doctrine of Strict Liability
A pivotal aspect of understanding what is product liability is the ‘strict liability’ doctrine. It specifies that defendants can be held liable regardless of their intent or knowledge of the defect. Under strict liability, the plaintiff needs to demonstrate three critical elements:
- The product was defective
- The defect existed when it left the defendant’s hand
- The defect caused the plaintiff’s injury
Categorizing Product Liability
This occurs when a product is incorrectly manufactured, resulting in a defective product. In this case, the flaw is not in the product’s design, but in its manufacturing process.
Here, the design of the product itself is unsafe, and safer alternatives exist. This implies that even if the product is manufactured correctly, its design might pose a danger to consumers.
This category covers instances where there is inadequate warning about the potential risks of the product. It also includes improper labeling, insufficient instructions, or misrepresentation of the product.
Breach of Warranty
This type of liability arises when a product breaches an express or implied warranty. Express warranties are direct promises from the manufacturer to the consumer, while implied warranties are assumed by law or circumstance.
Identifying a Defective Product
Identifying whether a product is defective involves two primary standards: the consumer expectation standard and the risk-utility standard.
Consumer Expectation Standard
Under this standard, a product is deemed defective if its danger is unknowable and unacceptable to an ordinary consumer. This test aims to assess a product’s “surprise element of danger.”
This standard declares a product defective if its risk of harm outweighs the benefits of its design. Factors such as foreseeable harm, instructions and warnings, consumer expectations, and available substitutes are considered.
Product Liability and Law
Claims are primarily based on state laws, and there is no federal product liability law. These claims are usually brought under the theories of negligence, strict liability, or breach of warranty.
Time Limit for Filing a Claim
Each state has its own statute of limitations for filing a product liability lawsuit. For instance, you have three years to file a personal injury lawsuit in Los Angeles, California. It’s essential to file your claim before your jurisdiction’s statute of limitations expires.
Common Products in Product Liability Suits
Claims can involve a wide range of consumer goods. Some of the more common goods include children’s toys, lawncare equipment, automobiles, asbestos-based products, and weed killer.
Liability for a product defect could rest with any party in the product’s chain of distribution. This could include the product manufacturer, a component part manufacturer, a party that assembles or installs the product, any entity involved in the manufacturing process, the wholesaler, and the retailer.
In some cases, the burden of proof shifts to the defendant(s) through a common law doctrine known as “res ipsa loquitur” (the thing speaks for itself). This doctrine suggests that the defect would not exist unless someone was negligent.
Unavoidably Unsafe Products
Some products cannot be made safer without losing their usefulness. In such cases, manufacturers and suppliers must provide proper warnings of the dangers and risks of their products, enabling consumers to make informed decisions.
Potential Damages in Claims
If you win your product liability case, you may receive damages, typically resolved through the defendant’s insurance. These damages can include reimbursement for medical bills, compensation for future medical care, property damage, and pain and suffering.
Product liability is a complex field of law that aims to protect consumers from defective products. Whether you’re a consumer, manufacturer, or distributor, understanding is essential to navigate the legal landscape surrounding consumer products.