In the realm of personal injury law, product liability claims hold a unique and critical space. It is essential to understand that these claims can be broadly categorized into three types, where defendants can be held liable for personal injury or other damages. Here, we’ll delve into each of these three main types of product liability claims and provide examples of evidence or warnings that could potentially put you at risk.
Manufacturing Defect Claims
Manufacturing defect claims top the list in terms of frequency among product liability cases. These claims arise when a product, produced with a safety defect, poses an unreasonable risk for the consumer. The basis of such a claim is that the manufacturer deviated from a safe design, producing a good with a defect.
So If a product has defects once it is manufactured and doesn’t meet the design’s criteria, resulting in death, personal injury, property damage, or even financial loss in some states, the manufacturer may be held responsible for the damages under the law of product liability. Two key theories in relation to the manufacturing process are negligent manufacturing and strict liability for a manufacturing defect.
Any manufacturing defect can lead to legal claims based on negligence, strict liability, or warranty breach, depending on the jurisdiction. In states that allow filing these claims simultaneously, these claims are typically brought up separately in a lawsuit. Negligent manufacturing claims are filed in the few jurisdictions that have not embraced strict product liability.
Let’s illustrate with an example: Suppose you purchased a blender that, due to a manufacturing error, caused the blades to detach during operation, leading to personal injury. This could form the basis for a manufacturing defect claim. In another instance, imagine your newly installed home heating system has faulty wiring due to poor manufacturing, resulting in a fire outbreak. These scenarios reflect how a manufacturing defect can lead to personal injury or property loss, typically resulting in strict liability for the manufacturer.
Design Defect Claims and Liability
A product can become defective due to poor design, thus entering the stream of commerce. If you can establish that the product was inherently unsafe due to design defects, it could give rise to a product liability claim under the product liability law.
In lawsuits related to product liability founded on a negligence theory, the broadly accepted criterion for deciding if a product is defectively designed hinges on whether it was designed with reasonable care. Even though the determination of a product’s defective design usually depends on specific facts, several general factors have been highlighted in some cases.
These factors encompass the information available when the product was designed, which may include evidence of alternative designs. The unreasonable risk posed by a product’s design is another factor; this is a measure used for defective design under strict tort liability in some jurisdictions. The general safety of a product for its intended or reasonably foreseeable use is also considered; this too is a test of design defectiveness under strict tort liability in certain jurisdictions. Lastly, the comparison of inherent risks versus the benefits of a specific design is taken into account. This is yet another measure of design defectiveness under strict tort liability theory in some jurisdictions.
As an example, a designer could be held responsible if a pressure cooker was designed in such a way that it explodes every time it’s used. A plaintiff could argue that the design defect made the pressure cooker unsafe, leading to a successful lawsuit if they experienced injury as a result.
Failure to Warn and Product Liability Claims
Failure to warn is a centerpiece of most drug and medical device lawsuits. A product liability is an option if the manufacturer, seller, or designer failed to provide adequate warnings, labels, or instructions, making the product defective.
So, to use a 2023 example, if a company manufacturing hair relaxers could be held responsible if the relaxers are linked to causing cancer, but the product lacks adequate warnings. If a user developed cancer after using the hair relaxer and it is found that the company failed to disclose this potential risk, the jury may award damages if it find the company knew or should have known of the risk and did not warn the end user.
Three Types of Defendants
Once a product has been identified as defective, the next question often pertains to the party responsible for the defect(s). Typically, three separate parties can be held responsible: the manufacturer, the owner, and the seller.
Manufacturers can be held liable for a product that contains a flaw in its design or manufacture that occurred under their control. This flaw must render the product defective before consumer use for a valid claim. Also, a consumer can proceed against manufacturers on a failure to warn case as well.
At times, product defects can be worsened by the reckless or negligent use of the product. If someone misused a defective product, you could include them in your cause of action against other defendants in your product liability case.
The party who sold you the defective product could also be scrutinized in a claim. To succeed in a legal claim, you must prove that they knew about the defective condition, design, instructions, or label prior to the sale.
What is the rationale for holding sellers responsible? The basis for strict liability comes from from the assumption that the seller, being in the chain of distribution of a product, is in a better position to bear the costs of injuries resulting from defective products. It also encourages higher safety standards as manufacturers and sellers are more likely to ensure product safety if they can be held responsible for harm caused by their products.
Compensation in Product Liability Cases
Compensation in product liability cases can vary significantly based on the specifics of each case. Here are some examples of jury awards and settlements:
$40,000,000 Verdict (California 2023): beginning in the 1960s and lasting for more than 30 years, the plaintiff allegedly performed repair and rewind work on electric motors that exposed him to their internal parts, including asbestos-containing slot insulation, phase paper insulation, and varnish. He eventually died from mesothelioma from asbestos exposure and his family sued Emerson Electric, the company that made the motors that he worked on.
$275,000 Settlement (North Carolina 2023): The decedent worked as a tractor-trailer fleet mechanic for more than 40 years, replacing asbestos-containing brakes and other automotive friction products on heavy trucks, including those manufactured by defendant Ford Motor Company. He later developed mesothelioma and died leading to a wrongful death suit against Ford.
$52,131,000 Verdict (California 2022): In this talcum powder case, the plaintiff claimed that she used talc-containing body powders and face powders for many years. The talc reportedly contained asbestos and caused her to develop mesothelioma. She filed suit against Avon Products, the company that made the talcum products she used, for strict liability and failure to warn.
$12,000,000 Settlement (Washington 2022): The decedent, 24-year-old male construction worker, was crushed to death when a dump truck backed up and ran him over. He brought a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer of the dump truck based on defective design and other theories, claiming that the truck lacked safety features that could have prevented the accident.
$18,112,250 Verdict (Pennsylvania 2022): The plaintiff claimed to suffer multiple fractures to her right foot and ankle, requiring surgery and resulting in post-traumatic arthritis, when she tripped and fell over a cable protector, manufactured by defendant Checkers Industrial Products, on the floor of a hotel ballroom where she was attending a conference. She filed suit alleging that the cable protector was defective in its design.
$10,500,000 Verdict (Florida 2022): Wrongful death suit was filed against Telsa Motors after 18-year-old lost control of his Tesla Model S and struck a building at which point the car burst into flames and he died. The lawsuit alleged that the Tesla had design defects which caused it to explode on impact.
How a Lawyer Can Help
Product liability cases can be complex and often require expert legal guidance. At Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC, we support personal injury victims every day, representing clients in product liability lawsuits on a contingency fee basis. This means that we only charge a fee when we successfully secure compensation for you. If we’re unsuccessful, our services are completely free. To find out how we can assist you during this critical time, please contact our offices.