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Fundamentals of Product Liability Law

Product liability cases turn not only on whether there was an injury from using the item but also on whether the product was defective or unexpectedly dangerous. A "defective product" is a product that causes damage or injury to a person as a result of some defect in the product itself, its labeling, or its intended use. A manufacturer or seller of a defective product can be held liable for injuries arising from its use. All states have some form of products liability.
 
Types of Defects
 
Three basic types of defects exist:
 
  • Manufacturing Defect: The product is well designed, but the way in which it was made makes it unsafe, e.g., the type of plastic used in production may have been weak, thereby causing the plastic to break when it should have been sturdier.  
  • Design Defect: The design of the product is unsafe, so the entire product line is unreasonably dangerous. Design defects also apply to the way a product is packaged, e.g., failure to use childproof containers for drugs.
  • Insufficient Instructions or Warnings: The manufacturer may design a product that is perfectly safe and has no manufacturing defects but fails to include proper warnings or instructions for safe operation. 
Establishing Product Liability
 
 
Liable Parties
The manufacturer, the seller, and/or anyone who repaired or modified the product may be held responsible for injuries caused by the product's defect. Sellers encompass everyone in the chain of commerce, including resellers such as wholesalers and distributors, even if they didn't know of or cause the defect.
 
Standard of Proof
The standard of proof to establish product liability varies from state to state. Product liability cases are generally based on strict liability rather than negligence. Consequently, fault does not need to be established. Rather, the elements required to establish liability are that the product was defective, that it caused injury, and that the injury was as a result of the defect.
 
Standing
The original purchaser isn’t the only one with standing to sue for injuries. Anyone who was using the product in a manner that was foreseeable may be able to sue if an injury occurs. People who are injured when someone else was using the product may be covered as well, if their injuries were caused by the defect and were foreseeable.
 
Available Damages
 
Four types of damages may be recovered in a product liability case:
 
·        Compensatory damages to cover medical bills, lost wages, and any property damage that was caused by the defective product.
·        Pain and suffering endured as a result of the injury.
·        Loss of consortium to compensate for the effect the injury had on a marital relationship.
·        Punitive damages if the defendants' conduct was egregious. Many jurisdictions are limiting or restricting the amount of punitive damages that can be recovered.
 
Defenses
 
In defending a product liability suit, the defendants are likely to argue that the product was not being used as intended when the injuries were incurred. They may also claim that the victim’s own negligence caused the injury. In some cases, the victim’s lack of due care may reduce the amount of damages. In other words, the "comparative negligence" or "comparative fault" of the injury victim may reduce or preclude recovery. However, instances may occur in which the injured party’s negligence had no impact on the cause of the injuries, in which case, a full recovery should be available. An example of such a situation would be where the injured party was driving while intoxicated but was injured due to faulty brakes on his vehicle.  
 
Moreover, manufacturers are obligated to anticipate foreseeable misuse by consumers. They are required to warn consumers about potential dangers when using the product in manners not intended. If it was not possible to foresee the manner in which a consumer used a product, the manufacturer may not be liable for any damages.