A products liability case is similar to other personal injury cases in some ways, but it also includes distinctive features. As in other personal injury cases, the victim will need to prove that they suffered injuries and costs that are reasonably quantifiable, and they will need to show that the accident was the defendant’s fault. However, instead of showing that the defendant was negligent, they may simply need to show that a defect existed in the product. (In some cases, state law may require the victim to show that the defendant was negligent.) They also need to show that they were using the product in an intended or foreseeable manner.
Existence of a Defect
There are three main types of defects that can form the basis of products liability cases. A manufacturing defect means that there was an error in making a specific item. Design defects and failures to warn tend to be more complicated. A design defect means that the product was unreasonably dangerous as it was designed. Some products have obvious dangers that are necessary to their operation, such as the blade of a knife. Other products have dangers that are the lesser of two evils, such as risks posed by airbags. A victim generally will need to show that there was a safer available alternative that would not have posed an unreasonable cost.
A failure to warn (or marketing defect) claim means that the product contained a risk that was not reasonably apparent, and the warnings attached to the product did not mention this risk. Sometimes these cases hinge on whether a warning was sufficiently obvious or explicit, such that a consumer should have seen and understood it.
Breach of Warranty
A plaintiff may also allege that a manufacturer or seller is liable based on a breach of warranty. Generally, a warranty is an express or implied guarantee that a product will work in a certain way or conform to a specific standard.
Causation and Damages
The accident must have directly resulted from the defect in the product. Being injured while using the product by itself does not lead to liability. You must be able to show that you would not have been injured if not for the defect in the product. Sometimes this is obvious, but there may be complicating factors, such as careless conduct by other parties that contributed to the accident. After a car crash, for example, a victim may face the allegation that their own careless operation of the vehicle caused or contributed to their injuries.
A victim must have suffered physical injuries or incurred financial losses because of the defect. Emotional distress alone generally is not enough. Damages must be supported by evidence such as medical bills and records, witness testimony, and pay stubs showing lost earnings.
A defendant may argue that the plaintiff misused the product, but not all misuses will bar a plaintiff from recovering damages.
This requirement means that the consumer was using the product in the way that the manufacturer intended or in what may be called “a reasonably foreseeable misuse.” Sometimes a consumer may not use a product for the exact reason that it was designed, but the manufacturer should be able to foresee that people would use it in a different way. For example, a car manufacturer probably should anticipate that a driver may drive over the speed limit. The scope of what may constitute a reasonably foreseeable misuse varies by state. In some cases, it may even extend to foreseeable alterations to a product.