Thousands of injuries occur each year in the United States from defective or dangerous products. Victims of dangerous defective products have legal protection under product liability laws throughout the country. These laws govern the legal rules that determine who can be held liable for the defect or danger to consumers.
In general, products sold to the public are required to meet common expectations of consumers. When those products have an unexpected defect, common expectations of consumers are not met.
More than one party could be held liable for injuries that occur from consumer use of a defective product. This includes all sellers that are part of the distribution chain for making the product. Parties that are potentially liable for a defective product include the manufacturer, parts supplier, wholesaler and the retail store from which the product was purchased by the consumer.
The type of defect will determine who is responsible for a liability claim. All of the specifics related to a product liability case may differ among states. However, there are certain elements that a lawyer must prove to win a product liability case for his or her client. These elements include:
- Injury and/or loss was caused by the product
- Product was defective
- Manufacturer’s error led to flaw in product
- Manufacturer failed to warn consumers about potential dangers
- Product was used correctly
Product Caused Injury and/or Loss
An actual injury or loss is a crucial element for a lawyer in proving a product liability claim. Specifically, the injury or loss must be a direct result of the product’s defect. In some cases, demonstrating the link between an injury and product defect is straightforward. In other cases, proving that the defect caused the injury or loss is not so easy.
For instance, a client was injured in a car accident while driving a vehicle prone to flipping over. If there is evidence that the client was speeding when the accident occurred, the manufacturer could argue that reckless driving – not the design of the vehicle – caused the accident.
However, a client could suffer third-degree burns when a brand new electric tea kettle explodes because of a hairline crack. The client did nothing out of the ordinary while using the tea kettle and could have a strong injury claim.
Product is Flawed Due to Manufacturer’s Error
In addition to proving that the product caused an injury or loss, the lawyer must also prove that the same product is defective. For some cases, the defect could be the result of a problem at the manufacturing plant. For others, the defect is within the product design, which means that the entire product line is dangerous for consumer use.
A lawyer might have a harder time proving that there was a flaw in the product design. The most likely scenario is demonstrating that an unreasonable design created the danger. However, a product that has potential danger is not automatically a judgment against the manufacturer or supplier when an injury occurs.
There are times when designing a product in a cost-effective or reasonable way is not feasible. Consider the potential dangers of vehicle air bags. While they can cause serious injury to a driver or passenger, they can also save lives in certain collisions. Car manufacturers would argue that when alternative outcomes are considered, air bags are not unreasonably dangerous.
Manufacturer Failed to Warn Consumers of Potential Dangers
Typically, a lawyer might have a better chance at proving an injury or loss occurred from a defective design when the average consumer is not aware of the dangerous quality. A ruling in such cases may depend on whether the manufacturer failed to warn consumers of the potential dangers. The manufacturer or supplier must show that instructions and warnings were reasonably sufficient.
In this case, a client might suffer third-degree burns from an electric tea kettle because the steam valve is concealed by some part of the product design. An average consumer would expect to find a visible spout from where steam is released. Instead, the steam valve is placed in an inconspicuous area, which strengthens a defective design claim.
Proving defective design is problematic if the tea kettle included bright red stickers printed with the word “caution” and the user manual included warnings about the steam valve position. The legal question now becomes whether the warnings were adequate.
Injured Client Used Product Correctly
Generally, the lawyer’s client must use the product correctly; that is, the way the manufacturer intended the product to be used. Continuing with the tea kettle example, an example would be if the explosion occurs when used to heat water for an outdoor kinds’ pool is not the intended use.
If the kettle explodes and causes burns, the lawyer may not be able to prove manufacturer liability. The manufacturer is not required to make the tea kettle safe for use with an outdoor pool.
However, this does not mean that use of every product must conform to the manufacturer’s specifications. The key is proving whether the average consumer would or would not use the product in the same manner as the client. If so, the lawyer has met the reasonable expectation of use requirement.
Winning a product liability case involves deciphering often complex circumstances and establishing a good legal theory. A lawyer who is knowledgeable of product liability law and the litigation process will craft a strategy to prove the case. An immediate investigation into the facts surrounding the case could expose obvious defective issues. Further, expert testimony is often essential in proving that a defective design caused an injury and/or loss.