Products Liability

Products Liability

Manufacturers and, in some cases, sellers of defective products are generally responsible for the safety of their products under the legal theory of "strict liability." That means that it is no longer necessary to prove that such manufacturers or sellers were negligent. Instead, an injured party must prove that the product was "unreasonably dangerous" at the time it was sold. What constitutes an "unreasonably dangerous" condition? Generally speaking, it is for a jury of your peers to decide ultimately. However, the technical aspects of most products cases require expert testimony, usually in the form of engineers, about how such products operate and alternative, safer designs and manufacturing processes. Once the jury hears such evidence, it will be in a position to decide the facts of your case. Naturally, you need an experienced personal injury attorney to help navigate this complicated process.

There are three main theories of liability in products cases: design defects, manufacturing defects, and failure to warn (or inadequate warnings). Design defects are defects inherent in the product from its conception. Manufacturing defects occur when, although the product was not improperly designed, an error in manufacturing process causes the dangerous condition. Lastly, a product may not be defective as designed or manufactured, but only becomes dangerous because there are missing or inadequate warnings about the dangers inherent in the product, or missing or inadequate instructions.

Generally, to prevail on a product liability claim, plaintiffs must show that the product was in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous at the time it was sold; that it was sold in the course of the defendant's business; and it was used in a manner that was "reasonably anticipated," that is, the product was not "abnormally used." This is not necessarily the same thing as use that was intended by the manufacturer. There are many common and generally accepted uses for products besides the specific use that brought about the product in the first place.

Failure to warn/inadequate warning cases are typically the most controversial, at least in the public's eye. Many believe that such cases are inherently frivolous and that people generally should be aware that certain products are dangerous. Such public skepticism is the result of a few very select, highly publicized cases. This view is generally unwarranted, however, inasmuch as the law itself provides safeguards against frivolous cases. In failure to warn products liability cases, injured parties must prove that their specific injuries are the direct result of the missing or inadequate warnings. They must prove that the failure to warn was itself unreasonable. A manufacturer does not have a duty to warn against a risk of harm if the dangerous condition of the product is "open, obvious and apparent." Accordingly, if the hazard is something the user should be aware of without warning, there is no liability for a "failure" to warn. Furthermore, if an injured party actually knows of the danger, there is no recovery under a failure to warn theory.

Products liability law is especially complex and necessarily requires fine legal distinctions and arguments. In order to accurately assess the strengths and weaknesses of your particular case, you should consult an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. The law sets forth strict time deadlines for filing claims.