Jason Stephens | April 1, 2022 | Product Liability
When you purchase a product, you expect that it’ll be safe. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and products may contain defects that render them unsafe. When a defective product causes consumers harm, they may be able to file a product liability claim.
Continue reading to learn more about the types of product liability claims and how to prove the elements of each.
What Is Product Liability?
In the simplest terms, product liability is the area of tort law that governs how manufacturers, distributors, and retailers are held responsible for injuries caused by defective products. Products liability law can be complex, but at its core, it is designed to protect consumers from harm caused by defective products.
Products liability law applies to a wide variety of products, from cars and appliances to pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
The 3 Types of Product Liability Claims
People who have been injured by a defective product usually file a claim for damages based on one of three types of product defects:
I. Manufacturing Defect
A product is defective when it deviates from its intended design, even though all possible care was exercised in preparing and designing the product. These defects occur during the manufacturing or production process.
Some examples of manufacturing defects are:
- Contamination of food during manufacture
- A bad batch of rubber that causes tires to explode
- Faulty assembly of a battery causing acid to leak
If a product is defective due to the way it was manufactured, an injured person will usually claim that one or a few units of an otherwise adequately designed product has become defective, typically due to one of two things:
1) The raw materials used in the composition of the product were defective, or 2) there is some defect in the quality control process. This could be because there is a problem with the way the product was assembled, or there is a defect due to insufficient testing of the product after it is manufactured.
To prove that a product is defective due to the manufacturing process, a person must show that the defect existed at the time the product left the manufacturer’s control. In other words, the plaintiff needs to show that the product was defective before it left the factory.
For the most part, manufacturing defects are unintended. Car manufacturers do not intend to assemble steering columns with missing bolts that end up causing a car to crash.
When a manufacturing defect does occur, and it ends up injuring someone, these unintended consequences become the basis for a product’s liability lawsuit against the manufacturer.
II. Design Defect
A product has a defective design if it poses foreseeable risks of harm that could have been reduced or avoided by a reasonable alternative design.
The following are some examples of design defects:
- A saw blade guard that inadequately covers the blade
- Failure to childproof a box of cotton swabs
- Electric Vehicles (EVs) that catch fire while charging
In a design defect lawsuit, an injured person must show that 1) The entire product line is defective (i.e., a failure to comply with state-of-the-art technology that existed at the time the product was designed), or 2) there was a failure to incorporate a reasonable alternative design.
For example, a young child swallows a toy block intended for slightly older children and is injured. Even though the size and the shape of the block complied with existing federal safety standards, a slight modification to the design would eliminate any choking hazards without reducing the toy’s usefulness.
In this case, the burden to create a reasonable alternative block design would be minimal when compared to the catastrophic harm or loss that is likely to occur by a child choking on the block.
What Are Some Defenses to a Design Defect Lawsuit?
In the toy block example, a defendant manufacturer may try to argue that the reason the child was harmed was due to negligent parental supervision.
In contrast, even if a parent was watching the child, it’s foreseeable that a young child playing with small blocks would put one in their mouth and accidentally swallow it.
Compliance with Government Standards
Compliance with a government standard is only a partial indication of reasonable care. Manufacturers of products are held to a higher legal standard.
Manufacturers are considered to be experts in their fields, meaning they need to be up to date on the technologies, discoveries, and techniques of their products.
Custom in the Industry
Many times, the custom in the industry lags behind the predominant state-of-the-art technology.
It’s possible that the toy manufacturing industry as a whole could be negligent in failing to adopt a better block design that would prevent a child from choking – even if it was more cost-effective to modify the design.
Not Feasible Due to the Cost
Some companies may not redesign a product because the cost of retooling or adding a safety feature may be too great, impair the usefulness of the product, or make it less desirable in the marketplace.
When deciding whether a plaintiff will win their case against a manufacturer, most courts will balance the likelihood that the product would cause an injury and the severity of the harm if an injury were to occur. Then courts compare how much of a burden it would be for the manufacturer to change the design of the product or add a component to make it safe.
III. Warning / Marketing Defects
Based upon state-of-the-art information and science at the time of manufacture, did the defendant have a duty to warn of possible dangers associated with their product?
Some examples of a warning defect are:
- An insecticide has written warnings, but no symbols conveying the risk of death
- Unnoticeable warning due to improper location or failing to catch the attention of the consumer
- A highchair instruction to secure a baby with safety straps does not warn of strangulation
A plaintiff who suffers harm due to a warning defect will need to prove that 1) the manufacturer had a duty to warn of some hazard and did not provide a warning, or 2) the manufacturer provided a warning, but the warning inadequately conveyed the magnitude of the known risk.
If a manufacturer makes and sells something that is reasonably likely to cause harm, they must provide instructions and warnings. Warnings and instructions need to extend beyond the mere use of the product and explain the product’s storage and disposal as well.
If you’ve been harmed by a defective product, contact a Fort Worth product liability attorney for help. These cases can be complex and highly technical. A product liability attorney will have the resources, including experts, to prove your case and win the maximum compensation available for your claim.
Contact Our Personal Injury Law Firm in Fort Worth, TX
If you’ve been injured in an accident in Fort Worth and need legal help, contact our Fort Worth personal injury lawyers at Stephens Law Personal Injury | Wrongful Death | Truck Accidents to schedule a free consultation.
Stephens Law Personal Injury | Wrongful Death | Truck Accidents
1300 S University Dr # 300
Fort Worth, TX 76107