What is Product Liability? Who is Responsible for Defective Products?

woman shopping product liability

At its simplest, “product liability” is a legal term that describes the responsibility that a manufacturer, distributor and/or seller may have if a buyer becomes injured by a defective product. Accidents can happen with virtually any product, and manufacturers are not required to create something that is accident-proof, but they do need to maintain certain standards.

More specifically, according to product liability law, buyers have legal protections concerning products deemed to be unreasonably dangerous, including those designed in ways in which dangers are not readily apparent to buyers. Plus, manufacturers are responsible for testing and inspecting what they make, and sellers are required to make reasonable inspections of what they sell.

You may not hear the term “product liability” very often in casual conversation, but we’ll bet you often hear about product recalls on the news. From contaminated food (and pet food) to eye drops that aren’t necessarily sterile, and from inaccurate test strip products to latex gloves that erroneously state they don’t contain latex, the FDA list for 2018 product recalls alone is pretty overwhelming.

In some instances, the harm done when using a defective product can be relatively minor while, in other cases, it can be downright devastating. This vast array of possibilities exists for many reasons. For example, for some people, allergies can skyrocket a particular problem that would be manageable in someone without that allergy. Quantities of a defective product that are ingested or used can also play a big role on the ultimate impact, while a choking hazard on a toy intended for toddlers may lead to much more severe consequences than one in a game intended for pre-teens who are much less likely to put foreign objects in their mouths.

Although situational specifics can differ significantly, the legal concept underlying product liability law, overall, is the same, and is called duty of care. On the surface, “duty of care” may sound relatively simple; but, in reality, specifics of product liability law can get quite complex. And, it’s different from more typical personal injury law.

No Federal Product Liability Laws Exist

When someone becomes injured because of a flaw in a product, claims of product liability are based on state laws, which can vary by state. Ways in which they can differ include (but aren’t limited to) the following:

  • statutes of limitation: this is the time frame you have in which to take legal action
    liability standards: what must happen for someone to be responsible for what happened
  • caps: an upper amount of the liability
  • innocent seller statute: under this statute, a seller of a defective product whose only liability exists because it’s part of the product’s distribution chain may be released from liability
  • joint and several liability: in states with this condition, each party involved in the manufacture and distribution of a faulty product can be independently liable for injuries that occur, to the full extent of the injuries

Claims of product liability are founded on the concepts of:

  • negligence: in general, this means that the carelessness of another person or entity was involved in the injury
  • strict liability: this can allow an injured person to receive compensation from a manufacturer or seller of the product that injured him or her, without needing to provide negligence
  • breach of contract: if a product does not meet standards listed in a warranty, then the manufacturer can be found in breach of contract

Failure to Warn

Liability can exist when the buyer is not properly warned of potential risks. Safety symbols and so forth are regulated by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which states that warning labels must inform the buyer of existing hazards, the severity of risk, effects of the hazard, and how to avoid the hazard. The warning must be highly visible and appropriately color coded.

So, Who is Responsible?

The short answer is that it could be one or more parties in the distribution chain. The distribution chain is defined as the organizations involved in manufacturing, transporting, warehousing, and selling products to customers. To make matters more complicated, when we say “manufacturing,” it could refer to one company. Or, components of a product may be manufactured by multiple companies, while they’re assembled by another company altogether. There are wholesalers and retailers, and so forth.

Defects can be defined in numerous ways, as well, including design defects that existed before the manufacturing process even began. Then, there are those that can occur during the actual manufacturing process, along with ones that occur during marketing. For example, if you had a latex allergy and purchased gloves that claimed to be latex-free, but weren’t, this could be considered a defect in the product’s marketing.

To throw in yet another factor, there are products that, by their very nature, can’t be made safe and still fulfill the intended purpose. These can include prescription drugs, knives, medical devices, and more.

Defendants in cases that fall under the umbrella of product liability law often claim that the injured party has not provided enough evidence of liability. Or, they may claim that the defendant altered the product, thereby making it flawed, or misused it.

Product Liability Lawyer

If you or a loved one have been injured because of a defective product, don’t settle for less than what you deserve! Product liability lawyers at Harrell & Harrell, P.A., are highly experienced in this specialized kind of personal injury and are here to discuss specifics of your case. Because product liability law is such a specialized area of law, it’s crucial that you have an attorney with significant experience and the niche knowledge required to represent you—and that’s exactly what you can count on at Harrell & Harrell, P.A.

You can discover what other clients have to say about how we handled their cases and, if you’re ready to discuss yours, please contact us online or call us at 800.251.1111. We will provide you with a free, no-obligation consultation.