Featured News 2018 Define the Law: Product Liability

Define the Law: Product Liability

When people purchase a product, they're implicitly putting their trust in the seller. When companies sell the public an unsafe or dangerous product that leads to serious injuries, then we can say that they have betrayed the public's trust. In the simplest terms, product liability is the area of law where lawyers prove whether (or to what extent) a seller or manufacturer has injured or lied to the public about its products.

What Is Product Liability?

Product liability refers to a seller or manufacturer's responsibility to provide reasonably safe products to the public. If any product comes with a certain amount of unavoidable risk (e.g. buying a chainsaw), then the company must disclose that risk to the buyer. For example, if a kettle causes steam burns when left on for too long, the manufacturer or seller must warn the buyer before purchasing.

Product liability law is governed by regulations for manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, or retailers. Laws regarding product liability may vary depending on the state laws where the accident took place; however, all of them offer legal recourse for consumers who have suffered an injury due to a faulty product. Understanding the three legal theories for product liability can help you recover from the damages.

The three legal liability theories are:

  • Breach of warranty
  • Negligence
  • Strict liability

Breach of Warranty

Breach of warranty, unlike other product liability lawsuits, is what happens when a contract between the buyer and the seller is broken by the seller—as a result, the only person who can bring a breach of warranty suit is someone who bought the product (or an immediate family member).

Breach of warranty takes two forms:

  • Breach of warranty of merchantability
  • Breach of warranty of fitness

Breach of warranty of merchantability occurs when a product fails to meet reasonable expectations (set either by the seller or the market). For instance, if you're selling frozen food, the reasonable expectation is that the food is not poisoned. Regardless of what the seller claimed, the law recognizes that the warranty is implied (i.e. the seller can't hide behind "well, you didn't specifically ask for non-poisonous food!").

Breach of warranty of fitness does not require a product to be defective—instead, a buyer can bring a claim forward if a product does not meet the specifications made with the seller beforehand. For instance, say you get fitted for a tailored suit...but receive a suit that's too small for you. The suit might be perfectly fine, but it's not fit for your purposes—and therefore would be considered a breach of warranty.

Negligence

Negligence applies in situations where a seller or maker's conduct creates a harmful product through careless design or manufacturing. Any party responsible for the creation of a defective product—from the designer to the supplier or seller—could theoretically be found liable. For instance, if a manufacturer did not follow their own quality control checks and it resulted in a defective product, the plaintiff could claim negligence. The important thing to remember is that negligence has to do with behavior or practices that led to the creation of a defective product.

It can be a challenging process to discover which party was responsible of creating a faulty item in the production process, which is why hiring an experienced product liability lawyer is vital.

Strict Liability

Cases of strict liability are the most basic form of a product liability lawsuit. Strict liability, at its most fundamental, requires 3 things to be true: 1.) a product was defective, 2.) that defect caused a person injury, and 3.) those injuries caused tangible losses. In contrast with a negligence case, the conduct of the defendant or the plaintiff in a strict liability case is irrelevant—the only legal questions that matter are "was the product defective?" and "did it injury someone?"

One example of a classic strict liability case is the lawsuit against Takata airbags. Takata put out an airbag that exploded with enough force to injure or kill passengers. By producing a dangerous product that caused injuries (and subsequent losses), Takata has been found liable for the medical costs and funeral costs of its victims. That is a textbook strict liability situation.

Be warned: not all states honor strict liability cases.

If you have experienced an injury due to a faulty product, contact a product liability attorney to assist you with the process of filing a defective product case against the seller or manufacture of the product.

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