Product liability is a broad area of law that holds the manufacturer, distributor, and/or retailer liable for defective products that injure or kill a consumer or cause property damage. Beasley Allen’s team of highly experienced defective products attorneys have helped scores of clients injured by defective products to seek and collect the compensation they deserve.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the nation’s regulatory watchdog for many consumer products, estimates that injuries, deaths, and property damage caused by defective products costs upward of $700 billion every year. Most of these costly injuries could be avoided if the companies that made the products and put them into the chain of commerce took adequate measures to ensure they were properly designed, manufactured, and marketed.
Consumers who have been harmed by a product in some way, excluding incidents of improper usage/misuse, can file product liability claims on the basis of alleged design defects, manufacturing defects, and/or failure to warn, or a combination of all of these. Most defective product claims are associated with three industries:
- Consumer Goods
Elements of Product Liability Claims
A design defect is a flaw inherent in a product’s blueprint that causes an unreasonable risk of injury to the consumer. Design defects can be attributable to a spectrum of potential flaws, such as the materials used or a configuration that makes the product unstable. A defective design will normally affect an entire line of products, meaning the hazard isn’t posed by some error made in the manufacturing process that may affect only some of the products.
For example, window blind manufacturers for years designed blinds with continuous loop cords that posed a major risk of entanglement and strangulation to toddlers. Although the blinds normally warned consumers of this hazard, they weren’t enough to prevent about 17,000 children from being injured by window cord blinds from 1990-2015, including 300 deaths.
Airbags made by the now-defunct Japanese auto supplier Takata provide another good example of a design flaw that injured hundreds of people and killed dozens of others. Takata made the decision to use ammonium nitrate, a highly unstable chemical, as a propellant in its airbag inflators. This resulted in the airbags deploying with lethal force, including in the most minor fender-benders.
To determine whether a product was defectively designed, Beasley Allen’s product liability lawyers will look at whether the flaw was present in the design prior to production; how foreseeable it was that the product’s design could result in injury or death; and whether a safer alternative design could have been made within reasonable economic limits without altering the product’s purpose.
Manufacturing defects are product flaws that occur during the manufacturing and assembly process and affect only some of the products. While only relatively few products may be affected, it is extremely important for anyone harmed by a defectively manufactured product to hold the manufacturer liable to help prevent others from experiencing the same injuries.
In some cases, such as single-vehicle car accidents, it can be very difficult to prove that a manufacturing defect caused the accident that resulted in an injury. Often, the defective product that caused an accident may have been damaged or even destroyed in the accident itself, casting doubt on the allegations underpinning a case.
To work through this and get the compensation our clients deserve, our product liability lawyers will investigate and gather evidence to demonstrate the accident indicates malfunction – a process guided by the “malfunction doctrine.” Once we have established the likelihood of a defect as the cause, we will rule out other causes as unlikely or implausible to prove your case.
Manufacturers can be held strictly liable for defects that result in injuries, meaning they can be held liable for damages regardless of how carefully the manufacturer designed its products, chose its materials, created an assembly process and instituted quality assurance protocols. In the eyes of the law, it would be impossible in many cases to pinpoint where, when, and how a negligent or unsafe act resulted in an unsafe manufacturing defect. Therefore, the manufacturer must be strictly liable for all manufacturing defects.
For example, an uncareful employee accidentally contaminates a batch of medicine. Assembly errors or accidents fracture or otherwise weaken lithium-ion batteries, making them prone to overheat or explode. A mistake somewhere on the assembly caused the wrong kind of bolts to be used on a vehicle’s brake pads.
Failure to Warn
In some cases, consumers injured by a product may also claim that the manufacturer’s failure to warn of potential risks resulted in a malfunction or accident that caused injury. Retailers and any other companies along the chain of distribution may also be held liable for failing to reasonably and properly inform consumers of risks associated with a product.
For example, a certain brand of space heater is safely designed and manufactured, but its instructions for use and its warning labels do not indicate how far it should be placed from potentially flammable objects or the risk of fire if the heater is used continuously for so many hours or in too small of a room.
Specific criteria for product warning labels, defined by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), help determine whether a consumer was properly warned of potential hazards. How closely the consumer followed the instructions or heeded any existing warnings are a determining factor in defective products cases
Our defective products lawyers will also look at other factors, such as the severity of the accident and resulting injuries and the clarity of the product’s warnings to determine whether you have a strong product liability case.
Types of Defective Products Lawsuits
The cause of your product-related injury also informs the types of claims you will make in your lawsuit. Most product liability cases in the United States involve claims alleging negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty. Laws governing these claims vary widely from state to state. As such, defective product claims are usually litigated at the state level.
A plaintiff who makes allegations of negligence in a product liability case must be able to demonstrate that the manufacturer or other liable party breached a duty owed to the plaintiff and that this breach resulted in injury. In other words, the defendant had a duty to the plaintiff – the consumer – to design, make and sell a safe product.
A claim of negligence is warranted when the plaintiff can show that carelessness in the design, manufacturing, or selling of a product resulted in a defective product that caused their injury.
Negligence that affects a product’s safety can occur at many points of the product’s development, from the initial planning and design to the ways in which the product is sold to consumers. Other factors, such as whether the product was sufficiently tested or prematurely released may also determine whether a product-related injury is rooted in negligence.
Strict liability in a defective product case means that the defendant’s behavior usually doesn’t matter – that no matter what, the defendant is liable for a product that causes injury.
In court, this means that if a product defect exists and caused the plaintiff’s injury, the manufacturer may be held liable for resulting damages whether or not it used caution and care in the product’s creation.
Without the theory of strict liability, plaintiffs would have to identify and show that unreasonable or unsafe conduct anywhere along the life of a product – from design to manufacturing to distribution and selling, resulted in a dangerous defect. Courts and state legislatures recognize that this would make many defective products claims untenable, so strict liability laws are fairly uniform from state to state.
The U.S. Department of Commerce addresses differences among state laws with its Model Uniform Products Liability Act, which encourages uniform procedures in product liability tort.
It’s important to note that strict liability does not apply to products sold second-hand, such as in a thrift store or yard sale.
Breach of Warranty
Many consumer products are sold with a written warranty or guarantee – representations made by the manufacturer or seller about a product’s safety. This is called an “express warranty.” Express warranties can be made in the paperwork or instructions included with the product, on the product packaging or labeling, or in any of the product’s advertising or marketing materials.
However, products sold to consumers also come with an “implied warranty” as well, meaning the manufacturer or other liable party implicitly assures that the product is safe if it is used as intended. Implied guarantees can be written as well.
Consumers with defective product claims often show that the defendant breached one or both of these warranties.
Defective Product Attorneys
Beasley Allen’s defective product attorneys aren’t just legal experts, we are fierce advocates of consumer safety and rights. We don’t just believe in helping those who need it most, we live by that creed. It is reflected every day in our service to those who have been harmed, maimed, or killed by defective products or the unjust actions of others.
In addition to guiding our clients’ lawsuits to a successful and just settlement or judgment, many of our lawyers have served or continue to serve in leadership positions at some of the nation’s top consumer advocacy groups and law associations. It is through our pursuit of justice, by holding wrongdoers accountable, that we can play a role in building a better and safer world for everyone.
According to a 2020 Product Liability Litigation Report by Lex Machina, product liability cases in the U.S. federal court system reached an eight-year high in 2019, maintaining an upward trend that started in 2015.
The report also shows that Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles handled the second-largest volume of product liability lawsuits in the U.S., with 6,470 cases from 2015-2019, just behind the top spot with 6,848 lawsuits.
Product liability lawsuits can be legally intricate, time-consuming, and often tricky to litigate. For more than 40 years, Beasley Allen’s defective products attorneys have represented plaintiffs in a broad spectrum of product liability cases. The cases we are currently handling include:
Cases involving environmental or toxic exposure claims, like those involving Roundup, are handled by our Toxic Torts Section, headed by Rhon Jones; and cases involving economic losses related to product liability like the VW emissions cheat are handled by our Consumer Fraud Section, headed by Dee Miles.
If you believe you have a product liability claim, please call our firm today so we can evaluate your claim free of charge.