Here’s what you need to know to build a strong product liability case when a defective product causes harm to you or your family.
Every day, people are injured by faulty products. Just about anything can cause harm if it isn’t made right or used correctly, from athletic shoes to car parts to medications.
When a product harms you or a family member because it was wrongly made or marketed, you have the right to seek compensation for your damages.
Learn what you need to know to build a strong product liability case. We’ll unpack basic liability laws, types of product liability, and who should pay for your injuries and other losses.
Product Liability Laws and Statutes
Most products sold in the United States must meet health and safety standards established by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
While the CPSC is a federal agency that helps define product safety and can announce recalls of defective products, there are no federal laws covering product liability injury cases.
If a defective product injures you or a family member, your rights to compensation will be based primarily on state laws or statutes.
Some states model their product liability laws on the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) which is a collection of laws written by a non-government commission to promote consistency between the states.
Each state makes its own product liability rules that can affect your claim, such as:
- Statute of Limitations – The deadline to file a product liability lawsuit varies from state to state
- Award Limits – Some states limit compensatory (injury compensation) and punitive (punishing the at-fault party) damage awards
- Seller Liability – Some states won’t allow legal action against the seller who sold a defective product in their store
- Joint and Several Liability – When more than one party is at fault, the state decides if you can go after one of them for the full amount of your damages and leave it to them to get payback from the other at-fault parties
- Allocation of Fault – If you share the blame for the circumstances of your injuries, the state decides if that will kill your claim or reduce your right to compensation.
Find your location on this chart of Product Liability in All 50 States.
Shared Blame for Your Injuries
Allocation of fault laws in your state is a big deal for injury claims. When you file a product liability claim, the first thing the manufacturer will try to prove is that you are the one to blame for your injuries.
Depending on your state, shared blame can sink your product liability case.
Under Pure Contributory Negligence rules in Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, or the District of Columbia your case is over if you are as little as one percent to blame for the circumstances of your injuries.
You can still seek compensation in states with pure comparative fault rules, like New York and California, even if you’re 99 percent to blame for your injuries.
However, most states use modified comparative negligence rules, meaning you can lose your right to compensation if you are assigned half (50% rule) or more (51% rule) of the blame for the circumstances of your injury. If your claim isn’t denied, your compensation is reduced according to your share of blame.
Every product liability case is unique. Talk to a
personal injury attorney
about your claim value and the laws in your state.
Understanding Negligence and Strict Liability
Product liability cases are different from other personal injury case types. In defective product cases, the victim generally doesn’t have to prove negligence. The only evidence needed is proof of injury and proof of the product’s defect to meet strict liability standards.
Once the injury is verified and the defect established, the victim has met their burden of proof. Then it’s up to the manufacturer to prove the product wasn’t defective.
Obvious Defect Claims
In some product liability cases, the product defect is so obvious; anyone can recognize the problem. The fancy legal term is Res Ipsa Loquitor which is Latin for, “the thing speaks for itself.”
When your attorney argues your case under the Res Ipsa Loquitor theory, they will enter evidence to show:
- The product defect is obvious
- You were injured by the product
When a reasonable person can look at a product and, without any other proof, recognize the product is defective, then strict liability immediately applies.
Defects Aren’t Always Obvious
Unlike a car accident or slip and fall claim, in defective product cases, the victim doesn’t need to gather circumstantial evidence to prove the manufacturer was negligent. However, the victim must identify the defect which caused their injuries.
Product defects are usually not obvious. An attorney may have to subpoena design documents, depose the company’s product designers, conduct independent product testing, and more.
Expert testimony about the product defect can make or break your case.
Case Summary: Million Dollar Verdict for Faulty Refrigerator
The Russell family wasn’t home in February 2010 when fire destroyed their home. Looking for answers, the Russells hired a certified fire investigator to determine what caused the fire.
After the fire investigator determined the fire originated from the family’s Whirlpool refrigerator, the Russells retained a registered professional engineer to perform an investigation and analysis.
The engineering analysis determined that electrical defects in the refrigerator’s compressor caused the fire.
The Russell family filed a defective product lawsuit against Whirlpool. The Russells’ attorney, citing the expert testimony from the fire investigator and certified engineer, convinced the jury that the family lost their home because of the defective refrigerator.
The jury entered a verdict in favor of the Russell family, awarding $1,377,550 in damages.
The verdict was confirmed on appeal.
Defenses to Strict Product Liability
Strict liability is not automatic. Some types of products are inherently dangerous, such as gasoline, table saws, carving knives, and other types of products that would not work for their intended purpose if they were made “harmless.” However, the manufacturer must provide ample warning of the danger to consumers.
Manufacturers may escape strict liability if they can prove one or more of the following circumstances:
- The design, manufacture, and marketing of the product was flawless
- The victim’s misuse or abuse of the product was responsible for their injuries
- The victim was aware of the defect and its danger and used the product anyway
- The victim ignored the warning label or instructions
If a manufacturer can prove any of the above circumstances, strict liability will not be automatic. Instead, the burden of proof will shift back to the victim, who then has to disprove the manufacturer’s defenses.
Product Liability Categories of Defects
A manufacturer may be found liable for injuries caused by one or more categories of product defects:
- Design Defects are mistakes or inherent flaws in a product. In most cases, the flaws are built into the product when it’s manufactured, but flaws can also occur during design modifications.
- Manufacturing Defects can occur even if the product’s design was not faulty. A product can be inherently flawless in its design, but by the time it comes off the assembly line, it can be defective.
- Marketing Defects (“Failure to Warn”) happen when the manufacturer doesn’t provide the user with enough information to use the product safely or misstates a product’s benefits.
Case Summary: $270 Million Settlement for Deceptive Marketing
The lawsuit brought against Perdue Pharma by the state of Oklahoma alleged the pharmaceutical giant “fueled the opioid abuse epidemic” causing thousands of drug overdoses by deceptive marketing practices.
Oklahoma’s lawsuit asserts that Perdue’s marketing efforts deliberately downplayed the addictive qualities of Oxycontin while overstating the treatment benefits of the drug.
Perdue denies wrongdoing, arguing that the FDA approved its warning labels for narcotic medications. However, to avoid further litigation, Perdue Pharma agreed to a $270 million settlement with Oklahoma in March 2019.
In a separate case back in 2007, Perdue executives pleaded guilty to federal charges of “misbranding” the narcotic drug Oxycontin.
Similar lawsuits filed by other states against Perdue Pharma are ongoing.
Who Pays for Defective Product Injuries?
Defective and dangerous products injure people every day. Just a few examples of common product liability injury cases are:
No matter what kind of merchandise caused your injuries, you have a right to be compensated for losses caused by a defective product.
Depending on where you live, and the product that caused your injuries, the liability for your losses may fall anywhere along the line between the manufacturer and you.
In other words, your attorney could seek compensation from any party which helped bring the defective product to market, including:
- A company who made parts for the defective product
- The company who installed or assembled the product
- The store that sold the product to you
If you only suffered minor injuries, you may be able to file an injury claim on your own and negotiate a small settlement with the manufacturer’s insurance company. They won’t accept liability, but you might get a replacement product or some coupons.
Product liability cases involving serious losses can be complicated and expensive. You’ll need an experienced attorney who can afford to cover the cost of court filings, hiring product experts, depositions, and other discovery expenses.
Injury attorneys who specialize in product liability cases usually offer free consultations to victims. If they take your case, the attorney only gets paid if your case settles or you win a court verdict.
There’s no obligation, and it costs nothing to find out what a skilled attorney can do for you.
Video: How to Establish a Product Liability Case
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