Product Liability and the LawLawyers and consumers alike turn to product liability law for protection and guidance when a product proves to be defective and/or dangerous. Please take note that no federal product liability laws exist; it is determined on a state-by-state basis. Within these laws are a set of commercial statues containing warranty rules that determine product liability.
Who is to Blame?Who is to blame is always at the root of any issue, as it ultimately dictates who pays for a consumer’s injuries. Products liability refers to the legal responsibility of any or all parties along the chain of manufacture for damage caused by a product produced or sold. The full chain of supply is potentially subject to legal action and may be responsible to pay out a personal injury settlement. The chain of supply may include any or all of the following:
- Assembler/Installer of the item (if applicable)
- Retailer (the place where you purchased the item)
- Wholesaler (where the retailer purchased the item)
- Distributor (often the agent between wholesalers and manufacturers)
- Manufacturer (original maker of the parts/ingredients of the product)
Hidden DangersThe unpredictable nature of people and diversity of products for sale require a clear definition of what exactly makes a product dangerous. Product liability doesn’t cover damage done by a product used in a manner for which it was not intended. Instead, a product is expected to meet the needs of the consumer without any hidden dangers.
There is a qualitative difference between a house fire caused by an electrical cord manufactured without proper insulation, and injuries sustained by an adult riding a bike inappropriately. It is the key difference which defines an unsafe product versus irresponsible use, the latter of which is not the manufacturer’s fault.
The bottom line is that consumers need to know what they are purchasing and if there are any hidden dangers associated with a product. After all, no one wants to buy a ticking time bomb.
Factors and OutcomesSo you purchased a defective product and you were injured – now what? If you are pursuing a personal injury suit with an insurance company, it is especially important to document all of the evidence involved for the claims adjuster (and your lawyers).
- Collect police reports if applicable
- Hold onto the defective product – you need it as evidence.
- Seek medical attention right away – waiting can imply your injuries are not serious
- Document whether you have any pre-existing injuries made worse by the accident
- Collect photographs of the defective product and your injuries
- Retain receipts as proof of purchase and store location
You may be able to sue for specific and general compensatory damages as well. Specific damages are easily calculated and usually cover:
- Loss of wages/earning potential and capacity
- Loss of property
- Medical bills
General damages are more subjective and thus more difficult to put an exact amount on. They include:
- Pain and suffering (physical and emotional)
- Infertility due to injuries
- Loss of consortium (strained relationship)
- Loss of extremities
Liability and Burden of ProofThe burden of proof is generally placed on the plaintiff (you) to prove that the defendant (the manufacturer and/or other parties in the supply chain) was negligent. In your search for answers, you may have heard of the concept of “res ipsa loquitur.” Translated from Latin to “the thing speaks for itself,” it means if it is clear that negligence of some kind directly contributed to the incident, it doesn’t matter if hard evidence exists as to how.
For example, if a load of bricks falls from a construction site and injures you, that is indisputable. It is implied there was negligence on behalf of the construction company that resulted in your injury even if there is no direct evidence as to how the bricks fell. You can then invoke this doctrine, the burden of proof is shifted to the defendant, and it is now their obligation to show they were not negligent.
Additionally, in Pennsylvania, a defendant in a products liability action may be liable under what is called strict liability, where said defendant is engaged in the business of selling a product. Under this theory, a plaintiff does not need to show that the defendant was negligent in any way. He or she must only show that the defendant breached a duty to the consumer/plaintiff by selling the product in a defective condition that made it unreasonably dangerous to the consumer.
Common DefensesAs the plaintiff, you are responsible for connecting the defective product to the manufacturer/seller. The exception is called “market share liability.” This legal doctrine allows the plaintiff to bring a case against a group of manufacturers of an allegedly defective product when it is not specifically known from which manufacturer the product came (for instance, a pharmaceutical produced by several manufacturers). The doctrine apportions liability across all manufacturers according to their market share for that product. Another defense you will see is the claim that the plaintiff somehow inappropriately modified the product in a way that made injury likely, or used the product in a way that it was not intended.
Common OutcomesEven though there are U.S. laws to protect consumers from faulty products, nevertheless defective products still find their way into the people’s homes. Product liability laws exist to prevent injury, and courts usually favor the plaintiff over the defendant when compared to other types of suits.
Only about 5 percent (about 1 in 20) of personal injury cases go to trial. Because manufacturers (and other parties found responsible for the defect) do not want the negative publicity, it is in their best interest to avoid litigation and award a personal injury settlement. If your case does go to trial, the amount you are awarded is dependent on:
- Severity of injuries
- Type of personal injury (vehicle accident, bodily harm, wrongful death, etc.)
- General circumstances of the accident
Contact Sacchetta & Baldino today! If you or someone you care about has experienced injuries from a defective product, you may be able to recover damages awarded under product liability laws. Here at Sacchetta & Baldino, our specialty is personal injury claims caused by negligence, including product liability. Contact us today so we can review your case to help you recover what is owed to you!