People who have been injured by defective products may be able to sue a wide range of parties that were involved in the chain of distribution. These may include manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers, suppliers, distributors, and more. Bringing every entity that may have been responsible into the litigation can improve your chances of recovering the compensation that you need. If a company has changed its form or has been acquired by another company, you may be able to sue the successor company. Foreign companies doing business in the U.S. also may be brought into the litigation. Courts in the U.S. will have jurisdiction over them because they are doing business here.
The manufacturer is the first entity in the chain of distribution. If you were injured by a defective component of a product, you can sue both the manufacturer of the component and the manufacturer of the overall product. While people often think of manufacturers as being large national or global firms, a manufacturer may be a small business or even an individual. This can complicate insurance issues and hamper a victim’s ability to recover full damages.
There may be more than one responsible party in each part of the chain of distribution. For example, both the manufacturer of a battery-powered drill and the manufacturer of the battery may be responsible for a product defect.
Sometimes a victim can sue parties that helped the manufacturer make and market the product, such as contractors. The additional parties that you can sue may depend on the type of defect that you are alleging. If you are alleging a design defect, you may want to sue design consultants. If you are alleging a manufacturing defect, you may want to sue technicians and engineers who were responsible for overseeing the quality control process. If you are alleging a marketing defect, you may want to sue advertising or marketing specialists who drafted the instructions and warnings associated with the product. Getting damages from an individual may be more challenging than getting damages from a company, but there is no reason not to include every appropriate defendant because this will maximize your opportunity to recover damages.
A retailer probably did not know that a product was defective when it sold the product. (If it did, it may be liable for punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages.) However, it still may be liable under a theory of strict liability if this applies in your state. You do not need to be the person who actually bought the product to bring a claim, and you do not even need to be the person who actually used the product. If you were injured when another driver crashed into you because of a defect in their brakes, you can sue the dealership that sold the defective car to the other driver.
Whether you can hold a retailer liable for selling a used product that was defective may be a complicated question. This will depend on the law in your state and the type of product and defect. Laws change frequently in this area, so you may want to consult an attorney to find out whether this type of claim would be appropriate.
Depending on the circumstances of the case and applicable state law, a plaintiff may be able to pursue a products liability case even if the product was used when they purchased it. An experienced attorney may offer more guidance.
Joint and Several Liability
This traditional doctrine allows a plaintiff to recover the full amount of their damages from any defendant that is found liable, even if multiple defendants share liability. Joint and several liability protects plaintiffs when some defendants are not able to pay their share of the damages award. A defendant that pays more than their share can seek contribution from the other defendants afterward, but that is not the plaintiff’s responsibility. Some states use a pure joint and several liability system. Others use modified versions, such as a rule under which a defendant is liable for the full award only if they were 50 percent or more at fault. Still other states apply it to only certain types of damages or certain types of cases.