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What Is Product Liability?

The general definition of product liability refers to a situation in which a manufacturer is liable for placing a defective product in the hands of a consumer.  If that defective product causes injury, then the responsibility lies with all parties in the distribution chain for that product. However, there is no federal product liability law to apply to these cases.  Therefore, most defective product claims are based upon state laws (commercial statutes which are similar to the Uniform Commercial Code), which contain warranty rules.

It is often incorrectly assumed that product liability claims include only claims against auto manufacturers, medical device manufacturers or pharmaceutical companies.  Unfortunately, many items can fall within product liability claims. Guajardo & Marks has represented many victims injured in product liability cases,  clients who sustained injuries involving a variety of products — from industrial and construction equipment, like cranes, pneumatic nail guns, scaffolding, forklifts and saws, to all sorts of child-related products, such as car seats, cribs and toys.  In addition, to these items, people have been harmed by commonly used items like toasters and farm equipment. It should be understood that product liability cases can involve anything that a person can use or consume where a possible defect can potentially cause an injury.

As noted above, the definition of a product liability claim is where an injured party claims that their injury is caused by some sort of defect in a product. There are three types of defects covered under product liability claims. The defect can involve a defective warning, a defect in the manufacturing of the product, or a defect in the design of the product.

Often injuries result when a manufacturer is aware of the dangerous nature of a product but fails to provide consumers with adequate warnings. This manufacturer is under a duty to adequately warn consumers of any foreseeable use or misuse of the product.  This failure to warn is known as a defective warning. Sometimes warnings are required by law, as in the case of ATVs which require that manufacturers warn drivers of the instability of handling an ATV and the possibility of a rollover. If a manufacturer fails to provide adequate warnings, and injuries are caused by foreseeable use of the product, the injured party may have a claim for damages against the manufacturer. A cough syrup whose label does not include a warning that it may cause dangerous side effects if taken in combination with another commonly used drug or a caustic household cleaner that is sold without safety instructions for proper use are both examples of a defective warning.

In some cases, a product was properly designed but then was incorrectly manufactured. Here, the product would have functioned properly/safely but for its incorrect manufacturing.  Because it was incorrectly assembled, the product caused injury. In this situation, an injured party may have a product liability claim against the manufacturer for a defect in the manufacturing of the product. This would be a manufacturing defect. An example would be a swing set which was assembled with a cracked chain which broke during use and caused a child to fall and be hurt. Another instance of manufacturing defect would be a moped that was assembled without brake pads, causing a crash which injured the driver.

Often a product is manufactured properly  and yet it still causes an injury. It may be that the cause of injury was a defect in the actual design of the object. An injured party will have to argue that the product could have been designed so that it would be safer and would have prevented their injury.  Here, the burden is on the injured party to show that there was a reasonable alternative to the design which, if it had been used, could have prevented their injury. An example would be an airbag which does not deploy properly even though it was manufactured according to specifications.

Product liability cases can be brought under three different theories, these include, negligence on the part of the manufacturer, breach of warranty and strict liability.  Each of these theories seeks to hold the manufacturer of a product responsible for the injuries  caused by the product, depending on what the manufacturer is alleged to have done or failed to do.  Did the manufacturer fail to produce a safe product? Did they fail to make adequate warnings about possible dangers? Did they breach an express or implied warranty that the product is safe?  Or, in the case of strict liability, was the product defective, unsafe when it left the manufacturer, unreasonably dangerous, reaching the consumer without having been damaged and causing the victim’s injuries?  A victim may seek recovery based upon more than one theory of liability.

Another primary issue involved in a product liability case is proving who is responsible.  Today, liability for a defective product can rest with any party along the product’s chain of distribution.  This can be the manufacturer, the component manufacturer, the assembler, the wholesaler or the retailer.  Generally, for strict liability to apply, the sale of the product must occur within the seller’s normal course of business.

There are many other issues involved in a thorough discussion of product liability.  The points mentioned here are merely the “key” points necessary to give a brief introduction and overview.  Therefore, it is imperative that if you believe that you or a loved one has been injured by a defective product, you should contact our firm.  Product liability cases are a very complex and require a thorough knowledge of all aspects that could play a role in harming the consumer. The experienced team at Guajardo & Marks will explore all viable legal arguments to help in winning your case.