The most common types of product liability cases are design defects, manufacturing defects, and warning or labeling defect cases. Each type of product liability case covers a specific set of circumstances, and each type requires a different burden of proof to be successful.
Regardless of the type of product liability case you have, your lawyer will likely sue for negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty. It’s common practice to sue for all 3, because the number of personal injury damages awarded to you will not change based on the chosen method, and one may end up being more effective at showing proof of liability for the defect.
What Is Product Liability?
Product liability refers to the liability of any or all parties along the chain of manufacturing or distribution of a particular product for any damage caused by that product. This will apply to the manufacturer of individual component parts, or the assembling manufacturer, the designer, the wholesaler, and even the retail store owner. Product liability covers both the consumer of the product and also anyone to whom the product was given or loaned.
Product Defects That Create Liability
There are 3 different types of product liability claims for any given defective product that could be the basis for your case. They are:
- Design Defect
- Manufacturing Defect
- Warning or Labeling Defect
A product liability lawsuit based on a design defect alleges that the product is inherently dangerous due to its design alone, rather than any problem with the manufacturing process. A good example of a design defect is a car that is very top-heavy by design, and thus prone to roll-over accidents. If you owned that type of car and had been injured in a rollover accident, your lawyer may choose to pursue a design defect case against the manufacturer.
In 47 states, the burden of proof for a design defect is on the plaintiff, so it would be a relatively complicated process to build a case that shows sufficient proof that the design itself is inherently defective. It would also need to be a defect that made the product dangerous to the majority of or even all potential users.
To effectively pursue a design defect case, your attorney will need to prove the defendant’s relationship to the product in question, the defective and unreasonably dangerous condition of the product, and a direct causal relationship between the product and your injuries or damages.
Manufacturing defects are the most common cause of product liability claims. A product liability lawsuit for a manufacturing defect alleges that the design is inherently safe, but that something happened during the manufacturing process to make the product unsafe. If a product doesn’t conform to its original intended design or fails to perform safely when the intended design would, a manufacturing defect exists.
To prove a manufacturing defect for your product liability lawsuit, you must show proof of several things. You’ll need to show proof that an injury occurred, that the product in question was defective, that the defective product was the primary cause of your injury, and that the manufacturer in question acted negligently in the production of the product.
Warning or Labeling Defect
If you are using a warning or labeling defect as the basis for your product liability suit, you are claiming that the product is dangerous by nature and that the manufacturer has a legal duty to warn you adequately of the danger, but has failed to do so. This type of product liability claim is common with pharmaceutical companies when a patient takes prescription medication and experiences adverse reactions that are not disclosed on the warning label.
Warning or labeling defects can be applied to nearly any type of product, from your fast food breakfast stop’s hot coffee to the antacids you take on pizza night, and can be applied based on poor wording choices, an ineffective location for the warning, or otherwise failing to convey the dangers associated with a given product.
The Three Types of Product Liability Claims
There are a few types of product liability cases, and your product liability attorney may choose to pursue one or all of them for your product liability claim. The different type of claims are:
- Strict Liability
- Breach of Warranty
Using negligence as the basis for a product manufacturer means that you are alleging that the manufacturer either negligently designed a product that is inherently unsafe, in the case of a design defect claim, or that they allowed negligent practices in the manufacturing process of the product in the case of manufacturing defect claims. Both types of claims will have a rather cumbersome amount of proof that you, as the plaintiff, will be required to show.
In extreme cases of negligent design or manufacturing, such as a wrongful death claim against an automotive manufacturer, your attorney will likely already have experts ready to help provide the proof required. Your attorney may recommend using negligence alongside the other type of liability claims anyway because you won’t need to prove all 3 in order to win your claim.
Product liability is generally considered to be a strict liability offense. This means if the plaintiff shows proof that the product is defective, then the defendant is liable, regardless of intent. It doesn’t matter if the manufacturer showed great care in the design and manufacture of the product in question. If the product causes harm, the manufacturer is liable for it. If a product is determined to have a design defect, some courts will use either a risk-utility test or a consumer expectation test to determine if the manufacturer is liable.
In the risk-utility test, the manufacturer of a product is not liable for a defective design if it is determined that the utility of the product outweighs its inherent risk or harm, or if it could perform with a similar level of utility with a reasonable alternative design to enhance its safety. A circular saw is a good example of this. If someone were to manufacture a circular saw with no safety guard, it would likely fail the risk utility test.
The second test favored by some courts is the consumer expectation test. In a consumer expectation test, if a product is found to have a defective design, the court determines whether a reasonable consumer would find the product to be defective if used in a reasonable and expected manner. If the court determines that a reasonable consumer would not find a product to be defective when using it reasonably, then the defendant is found not liable, even if the defective product’s design flaw resulted in injury.
Breach of Warranty
A breach of the warranty in a product liability case can cover many things, such as a product that doesn’t perform the function it was intended for, or a product that fails to last as long as promised. It can also apply in situations where, as part of the marketing plan for the product, it is offered up as a safe-to-use a product when there are inherent dangers due to the product’s design. In the case of pharmaceuticals, adverse side effects that aren’t disclosed are an example. The product may come with a warning that is worded poorly, or the warning is located in a place that isn’t immediately apparent to a reasonable consumer.
Warranty can be either explicit or implied. An explicit warranty need not be written. It can come as part of a sales pitch, or in an effort to close the deal on a product, but if the manufacturer tells you that their product with perform a specific task or will work for a certain period of time, and it doesn’t, they may be guilty of breach of explicit warranty.
If a product performs the task it was intended for but does so exceptionally poorly, it could be a violation of implied warranty. For a product that is advertised as safe or gentle, which later causes injury when used in a manner considered to be reasonable and expected use, the manufacturer may be in breach of implied warranty.
What Are My Next Steps in a Product Liability Claim?
If you’ve been injured by, or have damages attributable to, a defective product, contact a product liability attorney and give them all the relevant details of your situation. Many attorneys who specialize in product liability issues will make an effort to search out other consumers who have had a similar problem with the same product. After all, it’s easier to show proof that a design flaw or manufacturing defect can cause injury to a reasonable person when you have a large group of people who have all had a similar issue with the same product. Even if it’s a manufacturing defect that hasn’t affected numerous others, an experienced product liability attorney will offer you the best chance to be successful in your product liability lawsuit.