There are many resources that allow consumers to check on the validity of a business and its products, such as the Better Business Bureau, business license databases, and more. However, what do you do if you were actually injured by a defective product? Aside from reporting the company or their defective product, is there any recourse for you, as the consumer? What if you or a loved one suffered a serious injury, or something of yours sustained serious damage? An area of law knows as product liability seeks to address these issues.
Product liability law essentially seeks to hold manufacturers, wholesalers, retail sellers liable for distributing defective products to consumers. Liability can even extend to those only responsible for creating one piece of a product, or those who assemble the product. In product liability, there is an expectation that a product meets the “ordinary expectation” of the consumer. The words “ordinary expectation” are important to keep in mind. If you buy a knife, and mishandle it, leading to an injury, you should have had an ordinary expectation that a knife is a sharp dangerous object. Thus, you likely would not have a claim against the manufacturer or any distributor. Conversely, if you buy a pillow, as a consumer, you likely have an ordinary expectation that there are no hard metal objects waiting to poke you. Another example that has become a major area of concern involves lead in paint used on toys. As a consumer, it is reasonable to assume that a child’s product will not cause illness. If the product fails to meet these standards, then there is a product liability claim.
In most states, not only the person who bought the product, but anyone who could foreseably have been injured by the product, can have a product liability claim. As long as the claimant can show that they were injured by the product because a defect made said product dangerous, then they legally have a right to sue. The three theories under which a claimant must demonstrate that the product was defective and dangerous include design defect, manufacturing defect, and marketing defect. If there is a design defect, that means that the way the product was designed is inherently dangerous. If a product was designed in such a way that a structure did not have enough support for its intended purpose, this could be a design defect. Manufacturing defect is present if there is a danger in the way the product was assembled or manufactured. The example of lead paint would likely fit into this category. Whereas the toy was perfectly safe in its design, the manufacturing/assembly process involving the lead paint is what created the defect. With a marketing defect, this could mean that there appropriate warnings, instructions, or labels were not present on the product. An example here would be a cleaning product with potentially hazardous substances that did not warn of this.
Consumers have a right to feel confident that their hard earned money buys them safe products, not products which could lead to injuries. As such, the area of product liability is an important part of the legal system that can help right the wrongs of manufacturers and sellers. Yet, as with any legal action, each claim requires specific proof and evidence to support a claim. The exact laws for product liability claims can vary by state. The requirements for proving a product defect can depend greatly on which state you are in and by what you base your claim on. CourtReference.com offers a guide for laws, self-help guides, and other resources by state. This would be a good way to start your research if you think you may have a product liability claim.