Each year thousands of Americans are injured by defective products. Such injuries range from mild to seriously disabling or even life-threatening; devastating spinal cord injuries are often caused by accidents due to defective vehicle parts. Virtually any consumer product from automotive brakes to children’s toys can be dangerously defective.
A body of laws has been written to govern product liability cases. These laws are aimed at protecting innocent consumers who have been injured by defective products, as well as protecting the manufacturing industry from unjust or frivolous lawsuits. Product liability cases are heard in the civil court system.
Product liability law may figure in spinal cord injury cases. Defective auto parts such as unsafe tires and brakes are responsible for numerous accidents every year; many of these accidents cause spinal cord injuries. Defective construction equipment, unsafe flooring, and other defective products may also cause accidents which lead to a back injury.
Types of Product Liability Cases
Sometimes companies are negligent and fail to adequately assure the safety of their products.
Three factors must be proved for a negligence claim to be successful:
- The duty of the company to protect its customers must be shown to the court. This the easiest part of a product liability case, because all parties selling services or goods have an obligation to provide reasonably safe services or products.
- Failure to assure reasonable safety must be proven. Often this is shown by demonstrating that the maker of the product knew the dangers, but offered it to the public without properly informing them or the manufacturer neglected the obligation of being properly informed about the product’s risks and thus is at fault for this lack of knowledge and the consequent risks.
- The existence of an injury must be proven. Merely proving that the product is dangerous is not sufficient reason for compensation; the plaintiff(s) bringing the lawsuit must have sustained injury from the product.
Strict Product Liability
It is not always necessary to prove manufacturer’s negligence. In some circumstance a provision called strict product liability applies to product liability cases. In these cases, it is sufficient to prove that the defective product caused the plaintiff(s) harm or injury.
Breach of Warranty
Breach of warranty may be invoked when the part which failed and resulted in the injury was under the manufacturer’s warranty at the time of the failure. When this provision is used, the plaintiff’s side must prove that it was actually a part under warranty which failed.
Who can Receive Compensation under Product Liability Laws?
Only products which have actually been sold come under the product liability laws. Historically, the original purchaser of the product was the only party who could receive compensation for an injury due to a defective product. Currently, the majority of states waive this requirement; if it was foreseeable that a certain person could be injured by the product, that party can receive compensation for any injuries caused by the product. All that is required for this more complete coverage is that the product was sold to someone at some point.
Who can be held Responsible for Product Liability?
Theoretically all parties in the product’s chain of distribution can be held responsible for a defective product. Generally, the manufacturer is the one who bears the majority of the responsibility, but the party who installs or assembles the product may also be responsible for damages. Parties who routinely sell the product (either wholesale or retail) can also be held liable. Someone who simply resells a used product, for example a vehicle, usually cannot be held liable for any harm caused by a defective product.
What Kinds of Defects are covered by Product Liability?
Three kinds of defects are covered by Product Liability Laws. In some cases defects may merely render a product less effective, rather than dangerous. Ineffectiveness is not sufficient cause for compensation to be given; the product must be proven to be unreasonably dangerous.
A design defect is an inherent flaw in the product’s design which makes the product unreasonably dangerous. Negligence may or may not need to be proved when a design flaw is claimed. The strict liability rule may apply if it can be shown that a cost-effective design which is safer than the current design could have been used as an alternate to the defective design.
The designer may also be held responsible if no safer alternative design is possible, but the design in question can be proven to be so dangerous it should never have been produced.
A product which does not conform to the designer’s or manufacturer’s specifications has a manufacturing defect. Many things can cause manufacturer’s defects. It is generally easy to show evidence of a manufacturing defect, since all that is necessary is a comparison of an actual product with the specifications. Manufacturer’s defects may or may not be due to negligence; it often difficult to prove negligence in the case of a manufacturing defect, since what led to the mistake may be difficult to trace.
Taking this problem into consideration, two laws have been enacted to help plaintiffs obtain justice if they cannot prove negligence. The doctrine of “res ipsa loquitur” (the thing speaks for itself) sometime applies; this means that negligence may be assumed, since it is unlikely that such a defect would occur without negligence. This rule places the burden of proof on the defendant’s side; to avoid paying a settlement, the defendant(s) must prove that there was no negligence.
Strict liability is the second rule which applies to certain manufacturing defect cases. Plaintiffs do not have to prove negligence under strict liability; the plaintiff’s side must simply show sufficient evidence that product was defective.
Laws such as these were written because product manufacturers and distributors are more able to insure their companies against financial losses than individuals injured by their products are. The aim is to provide a fairer system for the victims of injuries caused by defective products.
A product with inadequate instructions or labeling is considered to have a marketing defect. Sometime labels are poorly written and fail to notify the consumers of all the risks. A product is also considered to have a marketing defect if it is marketed under false pretenses, either intentionally or through neglect.
Safety Issues which are Unavoidable
Many products must carry an inherent risk in order to be serviceable. For example a space heater carries a risk of fire because of the heat it produces, yet making the product not put out heat would utterly defeat the purpose it is meant for. The manufacturer of such products is required to make them safe within reason and to give sufficient instructions about their operation, but their obligation ends if this done.
Statutes of Limitations in Product Liability Cases
People who have been injured by a defective product have a certain time period after they are injured in which to file a complaint; this statute of limitations is not the same in every state, but the average time period is two years.
A statute of repose, which bars more lawsuits against a product once it has reached a certain age, may also apply in some states.
What Defenses are used in Product Liability Cases?
Statutes of repose and statutes of limitations are frequent defenses in defective product cases. Another obstacle for someone filing a product liability case is that the parties responsible for making the defective product need to be identified. This difficult when a type of product has more than one manufacturer and the plaintiff does not know who the manufacturer is.
This is a frequent problem with defective medication cases and so the “market share liability” law was enacted. This law allows the responsibility for a defective drug to be divided among the manufacturers which make it who are operating in the area where the plaintiff obtained the drug. Liability amounts are assessed by the percentage of each company’s sales of the item in the area where plaintiff obtained the drug.
Sometimes companies claim that an alteration to the product after it was purchased caused the defect and therefore they are not responsible for the resulting injury. Claiming that the plaintiff used the product in a way it was not intended to be used is another defense strategy used is a number of cases. Certain states also allow additional defenses.
Experienced Product Liability Attorneys are Essential
The complexity of product liability law makes it essential that you have an excellent lawyer experienced in product liability cases. When the defective product has caused a spinal cord injury, it is even more important to have an attorney with an excellent track record of winning product liability cases in which a spinal cord injury occurred. An attorney experienced in both product liability and spinal cord injury cases will know how to best prove your claims and win the compensation which you deserve.
If you or someone you love has received a spinal cord injury or other injury due to a defective product Newsome can help. Our experienced team of product liability and personal injury attorneys understand the hardships of spinal cord injury; we have helped numerous clients win just compensation for their injuries. Don’t delay; please contact us today. Fill out the free case evaluation form on the right of your screen and an experienced attorney from Newsome will contact you and advise you about your case.