Consumers expect that the products they buy will be safe. Toasters should work without starting electrical fires; cars should accelerate and stop safely; and food should be safe from contaminants. When product abnormalities cause injuries or illnesses for consumers, they can form the basis of a product liability lawsuit. Potentially dangerous products can include toys, prescription drugs, tires and automobile parts, beauty products and frozen foods, among others.
Manufacturers often order product recalls to ensure that defective products do not harm consumers. The most recent examples involve certain tires from Continental Tire, spicy black bean burgers from Earth Fare and metal futon beds from Big Lots. Unfortunately, recalls do not always shield the public from defective products. This is especially true when profit margins drive manufacturers to rush untested products to market, when they fail to correct known defects, or when consumers unwittingly purchase black market products. This article will explain the legal theories for products liability suits, as well as the common causes for such claims.
Products liability claims are commonly based on the theory of negligence, in that a manufacturer has a duty to exercise a reasonable standard of care for developing a particular product, and has failed to do so; thus harming a consumer. Under a negligence claim, an injured consumer must show that the defective product was the actual and proximate cause of his or her injury. Essentially, but for the manufacturer’s negligence in producing an unsafe product, the consumer would not have been injured by the product, and the manufacturer should have foreseen the potential dangers and risks when the product was developed.
For example, in developing the anti-osteoporosis drug Fosomax, Merck should have taken reasonable care in discovering side effects; and as such, it should have known about the possibility for osteonecrosis of the jaw. Crib manufacturers have a duty to ensure infants will be safe in using their products, and should have known about the potential for children to be harmed by drop side cribs.
Products liability claims can also be based on the following legal theories:
Breach of warranty – This applies to a manufacturer’s failure to fulfill the terms of a promise or claim made regarding a product’s quality or safety. As a matter of law, a manufacturer must guarantee certain warranties concerning goods that it sells and be accountable for any breach.
Misrepresentation – This refers to the process of giving consumers false or misleading information about the safety of a particular product. A consumer who relies on such information and is harmed by the product may recover money damages. Misrepresentation can also be argued under a theory of breach of express warranty or a theory of strict tort liability.
Strict liability – This extends the responsibility of the manufacturer to all consumers who might be injured by the product, and does not require the injured party to prove negligence. An injured party need only prove that the item was defective, the defect proximately caused the injury, and the defect rendered the product unreasonably dangerous. Under the theory of strict liability, the designer, manufacturer, distributor and seller of defective products may be held liable for injuries and illnesses consumers suffer.
In general, there are three common scenarios that can form the basis of a product liability claim:
Manufacturing defects – Injuries caused by a defect in the manufacture of a product fall into this category. If the improper assembly of propane tank valves, causes an explosion, this would be an example of a manufacturing defect.
Design defects – Accidents where an injury is caused by a poor design can be attributable to design defects. Since it was likely to cause a fire if the car was rear-ended, the placement of the gas tank on late model Jeep Cherokees would be a prime example. Also, table saw without proper guards to protect right-handed, and left handed workers would be considered a defective design.
Failure to warn/improper labeling – Products sold without proper labels that warn consumers about the correct way to use the product so to avoid specific hazards, illnesses or injuries. Prime examples include over-the counter drugs without labels that should warn about possible bad side effects if taken with other medications
If you have been harmed by a consumer product, an experienced personal injury attorney can advise you of your rights and options.