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Strictly speaking, product liability is a legal term which means that the manufacturer, distributor, and/or vendor of a product is liable to a person who has been injured by that product, if it is defective or dangerous. Strict product liability means that the seller is liable no matter whether they took every precaution against their product failing or becoming dangerous.
It seems like a fairly straightforward legal definition, but strict product liability can get complicated. There are numerous exceptions to the rule. This is why it’s important to hire a product liability lawyer if you or someone you know has been hurt by a defective product.
Product Liability: An Overview
In a run-of-the-mill personal injury case (if there is such a thing), there is a certain standard of conduct to which the defendant should have adhered. A ferry captain is bound by duty to see his passengers safely from shore to shore; a cab company is required to keep its taxicabs in good maintenance; city governments are required to inspect roadways and railroad tracks for defects or faults. For any one of these entities to be held liable in a personal injury case, it must be proven that they did not live up to the standard of conduct which would be expected of them under normal circumstances—that they did not do everything within reason to prevent an accident.
In strict product liability cases, however, it doesn’t matter whether the defendant did everything in their power to prevent an accident—they will still be liable if someone is injured by their defective product. Strict liability was instituted to protect plaintiffs, who might be injured by a defective product through no fault of their own, but could not win their civil lawsuits because of the way standard negligence laws were written. It was too difficult to prove that the manufacturer had not conformed to the “standard of conduct” expected of them, and that nothing else but the manufacturer’s deviation from that standard caused the defect.
Proving Fault in Product Liability Cases
Despite the fact that strict product liability law favors the plaintiff, the burden of proof is still on the plaintiff’s attorney to show that:
- The product which injured them was sold in an “unreasonably dangerous condition”
- The producer or vendor “expected and intended” that when the product reached the market, it would not be altered or changed
- Either the plaintiff or their property was damaged by the product’s defects
Possible Defenses Against Strict Product Liability
Just because a seller is operating under strict product liability law does not mean that a plaintiff will automatically win a case against that seller. Some of the ways in which the defendant may try to block or dispute your claim include:
- Some third-party person or event interfered with the product in such a way that the product, as it was originally sold, was not the cause of the injury to the plaintiff. For example, the product could have been damaged during shipping by a careless courier, and this caused the defect which injured the plaintiff.
- The plaintiff knowingly used the product in an unsafe manner, or used the product even though they knew in advance that it was defective. If a person uses a defective hairdryer in a wet bathtub, for example, then this is adequate grounds for a dismissal of a personal injury case; the seller of the hairdryer would not be liable.
- The plaintiff used the product in a careless manner, such that their negligence was the major contributor (or the only contributor) to the accident, especially if the product was used in a manner other than intended.
Product Defects: An Overview
In essence, there are only three types of defects: inadequate warnings, design defects, and manufacturing defects. If a seller fails to properly warn the public about the possible hazards involved in the use of a particular product, then this counts as inadequate warning, and the seller may be liable for any injuries consumers sustain. Design defects are problems in the fundamental structure and design of the product line as a whole, and the entire line may need to be recalled for the public’s safety. Manufacturing defects are limited to that particular product, not the entire line—perhaps something untoward happened while the product was being manufactured—and the product is now unsafe to use.
Targets of Product Liability Lawsuits
Surprisingly, sellers of products, distributing organizations, and the original manufacturers of the product may all be sued if the product is defective and injures consumers.
Obviously, manufacturers may be liable for injuries done to consumers by their products, since they manufacture the components and assemble the finished product. But strict product liability, by disregarding the standard of behavior, means that retailers and distributors may also be held liable for distributing and selling tainted or unsafe products. Even if the distributor simply picks up a product from the manufacturing plant and sends it to retailers without inspecting it, and the retailers put it on shelves and sell it as-is, they are still liable. While this may seem unfair to distributors and retailers, this facet of strict liability was enacted to protect victims—it can be difficult to prove where in the chain (manufacturer – distributor – seller) the product became defective.
Once the lawsuit is filed, it’s up to the defendant to prove themselves innocent and indicate another link in the chain where the product became defective.
Let The Reeves Law Firm Assist You in Seeking Justice
Don’t let product liability law confuse you. The legal experts at The Reeves Law Firm can help. We’ll give you a free legal consultation and advise you on your options. We know the ins and outs of product liability law and can help you recover a fair settlement if you’ve been injured by a defective consumer product. The Reeves Law Firm represents accident victims in Huntsville, Decatur, Alabama, and Tennessee. Call us today at 256.355 for a free consultation.