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.