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PRODUCT LIABILITY IN A NUTSHELL

Product LiabilityProduct liability is a legal doctrine that falls within the area of “torts.”  A tort is defined as a wrong committed by one person either through an act and/or omission which injures another person, and can be intentional or unintentional.  An individual who is injured at the hand of a wrongdoer may file a lawsuit to recover financial compensation and other remedies allowed by law.  Product liability applies to an act or omission by a person or company who manufactured, designed, sold, distributed or delivered a product which injured a person or group of persons.

There are three ways the injured person can recover his or her damages in the product liability context: 1) Negligence, 2) Breach of Warranty, and 3) Strict Liability.  The first two are concerned with the conduct of the tortfeasor (the person who committed the wrong) while the last one is only concerned with the product without regard of the tortfeasor’s conduct.  We will address each one in turn.

  1. Negligence  

Negligence occurs when a person fails to exercise the type of care that a reasonable person would exercise under the same or similar circumstances.  This is commonly referred to as a duty of care.  In the event this duty is not met there is a breach, which in some cases can cause harm or damage to other person or persons.  In sum, the elements of a negligence action are:  1) Duty of care, 2) The breach of that duty, 3) That breach is the actual and proximate cause of the person’s injury, and 4) The existence of actual damages.

For example, if an automobile manufacturer failed to properly assemble and test one of its vehicles, and as a result of this one of its consumers was involved in a car wreck where he sustained multiple bodily injuries resulting in medical costs and damage to his car, the customer would most likely prevail in a product liability action for negligence against the automobile manufacturer.

The automobile manufacturer had a duty of care towards its customers because it is in the business of selling cars, it breached that duty by failing to properly assemble and test the sold vehicle, and this breach caused the injuries and damages sustained by its customer (bodily injury, medical costs, property damage, and possibly pain and suffering).  All elements are met in this example and the automobile manufacturer would most likely be found liable for these damages for its negligent conduct.

Negligence can also be shown by the failure to warn or the failure to provide adequate warning.  In most mass torts for pharmaceutical and medical devices, the failure to warn of known dangers is commonly plead.

  1. Breach of Warranty

A warranty is a promise regarding the quality, quantity, number, or type of good or product.  A warranty can be express or implied.  An express warranty is when the promise related to the good or product is made verbally or written to the potential buyer or consumer.  To be considered an express warranty the promise(s) made must be the basis of the negotiation, and must not be a mere exaggeration or “puffery” on the part of the seller, such as “this is best computer on the market.”

Contrary to an express warranty, an implied warranty is unspoken and unwritten promises which are assumed by law.  There are two types of implied warranties:  1) The warranty of merchantability, and 2) The warranty of fitness for a particular purpose.

The warranty of merchantability is a promise that the product will do what it is supposed to do.  For example, if you buy a heater during the winter you expect it to heat and not blow cold air, and therefore, as buyer the law will protect you and provide you with a legal remedy in this particular situation (e.g. get your money back or replace it for a heater that works properly), even though no express promises were made in that regard.

The warranty of fitness for a particular purpose is a promise that the law infers when a buyer relies on the seller’s advice that the product can be used for a particular purpose.  For example, before you buy a heater you mention to the seller that you need a heater for a 300 square feet and based on that, the seller recommends a particular heater.  Here the seller knows the buyer’s particular need and the buyer relies on the seller’s recommendation in buying the heater.  In this case the law will also protect buyer, and provide him with a legal remedy.

  1. Strict Liability

Strict product liability is not concerned with the conduct of the seller of the product, but rather the product itself.  If a product that is defective or unreasonably unsafe was placed in market and somebody was injured because of it strict liability may be imposed.

A product can be considered defective if it has manufacturing defects like an improper assembly, loose parts, missing parts or the product’s manufacturing process did not conform with usual standards of the same type of product.  It can also be defective if the product design makes it unreasonably dangerous.  For example, an airbag that fails to deploy at the time of a collision.  Lastly, a product can be defective if it fails to provide sufficient warning labels in the product when there is a risk of danger.

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries by a product either through negligence, breach of warranty, manufacturing defect, design defect or inadequate warning we recommend you to contact us immediately for a free consultation.  Our product liability attorneys will provide you with enough information about your claim and whether you meet the requirements to file suit against the product’s manufacturer.