A products liability claim based on injuries caused by a defective consumer item can use a broad range of legal theories. Most often, these claims are brought under a theory of strict liability, but sometimes a theory of negligence may be more appropriate, depending on the state. The difference between strict liability and negligence is that strict liability does not require showing that the defendant acted carelessly, while negligence does require this element. Regardless of whether strict liability, negligence, or another theory forms the basis of the claim, a consumer usually will need to prove that one or more of three types of defects existed. These are manufacturing defects, design defects, and marketing defects, also known as failures to warn.
In addition to proving the existence of the defect, the consumer will need to show that the defect caused their injury. This means that they would not have been injured if the defect had not been present.
This is the simplest type of defect, which occurs when there was a problem with how a specific item was made. A manufacturing defect might arise from an error on the assembly line at the factory, which makes a certain product different from all of the others in its line. For example, a car accident caused by malfunctioning brakes might have resulted from an error in making that specific set of brakes.
A plaintiff may need to show that a safer design was feasible or that the risk imposed by the design was greater than what an ordinary consumer would expect.
Sometimes an entire line of products suffers from a problem that makes them unreasonably dangerous. In other words, nobody made an error in the manufacturing process or deviated from the intended design. The people and entities that made the blueprint or specifications for the product may be responsible for failing to take foreseeable risks into account. Perhaps an SUV that is prone to rolling over suffers from a design defect, or perhaps a medical device tends to fragment inside the patient’s body, causing injuries from displaced components. The legal test for establishing a design defect varies from state to state, and generally a victim will need to retain an expert. Part of showing that a design was unsafe may involve showing that there was a safer alternative that could have been made at a reasonable cost.
Marketing Defects (Failures to Warn)
If a manufacturer fails to provide appropriate instructions on how to use a product, or fails to warn consumers about its inherent risks, this may give rise to a products liability claim based on a marketing defect. Manufacturers will not be liable for failing to warn of obvious risks, such as the fact that a knife is sharp or the fact that you can fall off a ladder. This theory often arises in the area of pharmaceuticals, since drug manufacturers may not list the side effects of a medication on the bottle. It also may arise when a household product contains a chemical that may be unsafe in some settings. The victim would need to have suffered injuries because of the specific risk that was not disclosed, and they would need to have been using the product in a way that was intended or reasonably foreseeable.
Breach of Warranty
If a product comes with a written warranty, and it fails to live up to the terms of the warranty, a victim might be able to bring a claim based on a breach of express warranty. You might find a warranty on labeling or packaging, in the advertising for a product, or in a manual that comes with a product. A claim based on a breach of implied warranty might arise if the law in your state applies a warranty to a certain type of product, even if the manufacturer or distributor does not. This usually will consist of an implied warranty of merchantability, which provides that the product is fit for the purpose for which it is sold. Sometimes an implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose will arise when a seller knows that a specific buyer will be using a product for a certain purpose. This type of warranty is relatively uncommon and depends on a customer’s interactions with the vendor.