“Product liability” is a term that refers to the legal responsibility of designers, manufacturers, distributors, and other parties to ensure consumers are not sold defective and/or hazardous products. The sale of faulty products accounts for millions of injuries and exposure to hazardous substances nationwide. Product liability litigation is the primary mechanism for injured consumers to seek financial compensation from negligent companies. If you or a loved one have suffered injuries due to a defective product, you are eligible to file a product liability claim to recover your losses.
Product liability suits often involve multiple defendants, resulting in higher payouts compared to other types of injury claims. According to the Insurance Information Institute, the average product liability injury award in 2020 was $7,058,106. However, for injured consumers to see their fair share of compensation, it is important to be aware of the following information regarding product liability litigation.
What is Considered a Defective Product?
Any good for sale (whether it is a finished product or part) that causes injury through no fault of the consumer is considered a defective product. These defects may occur at various stages in the production of the product.
Before production begins, a product must be designed. Designers must carefully consider any potential hazards to the consumer as they design the product. Errors at this early phase may result in flaws throughout the production process. For example, a recent example of a product with a defective design is the exploding gas cans manufactured by Blitz USA. Their gas cans were not designed to include a flame arrestor (wire mesh in a gas can that prevents fire from igniting the gas within). Blitz USA declared bankruptcy after facing 42 lawsuits with settlements of up to $10 million. However, 26 additional lawsuits from injured plaintiffs were filed after the company was declared bankrupt.
After the design for a product is finalized, manufacturing can begin. Many stages in the manufacturing process could result in defective products. If the defect is caused by the manufacturer’s failure to adhere to the intended design of the product, the designer will not be considered liable for any resulting defects. Manufacturers are responsible for ensuring all steps of the manufacturing process are completed with rigorous safety checks and oversight. An example of a recent manufacturing defect claim is the lawsuit against Takata Corporation (a supplier of automobile safety equipment). According to the plaintiffs, Takata Corporation submitted fraudulent reports regarding the safety of ammonium nitrate-based airbag inflators that resulted in the sale of these dangerous parts to consumers.
Some products, while not inherently defective, require guidance on proper use to ensure the consumer’s safety. If the product’s manufacturer fails to communicate necessary warnings, consumers may inadvertently injure themselves. A prominent example of improper marketing resulting in injury is the lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and its marketing of the drug OxyContin. Plaintiffs claim that the marketing of these drugs downplayed their highly addictive nature, leading to patients becoming addicted to their pain medications. Eventually, Purdue Pharma reached a settlement that resulted in paying out $12 billion in damages over time.
Product Liability Claims
In order to file a product injury claim, it must be established in what way the liable parties were responsible for your injuries. Your attorney will establish which of the following causes of action is most applicable to your injury claim. In all forms of product liability, producers’ liability is increased in proportion to the severity of damages.
A product liability claim based on negligence must establish that the producers of a product failed to act with reasonable care at some point throughout the production process. This means that the designers and/or manufacturers did not create and test the product with the consumer’s safety in mind. For example, lawsuits filed against C. R. Bard (a manufacturer of hernia mesh implants) claimed that the manufacturer failed to warn the public of the dangers of their product despite having knowledge that their products were the cause of severe side effects, including adhesion, bowel obstruction, infection, tissue perforation, and more.
Breach of Warranty
Manufacturers often provide express warranties that guarantee certain terms or premises (for example, the product’s intended use or durability). A breach of warranty is considered any failure of the product to live up to the promises expressed in the manufacturer’s warranty. Express warranties generally take the form of marketing, advertising, and labeling on the product or instruction manual. In some cases, injured consumers may be eligible to claim a breach of warranty even if the manufacturer supplied no written promise. In these cases, a consumer can claim there was an “implied warranty.” An example of a defective product that may result in a breach of warranty lawsuit would be a tire whose manufacturer claims will last “at least 30,000 miles” before the consumer must replace it. If the tires sold by the manufacturer consistently do not live up to this express warranty, consumers may have legal grounds to seek compensation.
“Strict liability” claims are a more flexible form of a product liability suit. To file a strict liability claim, your lawyer must prove that the manufacturer’s defective product injured you. This means the defect must have been present during production and cannot be caused by user error. For example, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson (LTL Management LLC) is facing more than 38,000 claims that exposure to their talc-based baby powders caused consumers to develop ovarian cancer and other adverse health effects. While the company has proposed an $8.9 billion settlement for these lawsuits, there are still 37,000 pending lawsuits as of June 2023.
Who Can I Sue for Product Defects?
As a product makes its way to the consumer, numerous parties are responsible for ensuring its safe design, manufacture, marketing, and sale. Any acts of negligence by these parties could result in the product of a hazardous or malfunctioning product. As a result, any of these parties could be considered liable for injuries caused by the defective product.
To determine who should be held liable in a product liability lawsuit, your attorney will need to establish at what point in the production process the defect occurred and which party (or parties) failed to check the product for consumer safety or conduct best safety practices overall.
If there are flaws in the initial conception and design of the product, the designer will be considered legally liable for resulting injuries. However, if the product’s defects are caused by any of the following parties’ failure to adhere to the initial design of the product, the designer will not be considered responsible for the defect.
Manufacturers are responsible for producing the parts and materials of the product. During production, there may be various federal, state, and local safety standards that manufacturers must abide by.
Some products incorporate various components that are manufactured separately. A product’s defect may be the fault of one singular, defective part. If the other components of the product It can be difficult, however, to pinpoint which component of a product is ultimately to blame for a product defect. Your litigation attorney will need to collect concrete evidence of the component’s malfunction.
Assembly plants are responsible for assembling the various elements and processing and packaging the final product. If there are errors in the assembly line, the owners of the assembly plant would be considered liable. For example, Abbott Laboratories is currently involved in a class action lawsuit alleging that defective infant formula was manufactured at the company's assembly plant. Allegedly, the formula produced by these plants resulted in severe bacterial infections in multiple infants.
Distributors are responsible for transporting the product from the assembly plant to the retailer. Large distributors often transport products to retailers nationwide. These “middlemen” may spend the least time with the product, but improper storage or transportation could result in damaged products.
In the final stage of the sale of a product, retailers purchase, store, and sell the product to the consumer. It is the responsibility of all retailers to ensure they are not selling potentially hazardous items to their customers. In most cases, if a retailer is found to be selling a hazardous product, they will be one of many defendants in a product liability claim (unless the defect was solely caused by their failure to store the product safely).
How To File a Product Liability Lawsuit
Taking on a large company with substantial resources and specialized corporate attorneys can seem daunting to consumers who have already suffered the physical and financial burdens of their injuries. However, with the help of a qualified legal professional, victims of malfunctioning products and negligent manufacturers can see the justice they deserve. Breaking the process into the following steps will assist those seeking financial compensation for injuries caused by a defective product in taking appropriate legal action.
Seek medical attention
First and foremost, consumers who are injured by a defective product should see a medical professional as soon as possible (even if the injuries do not initially seem severe). This is important for two reasons: 1) further complications could develop over time, and 2) it is important to have an official diagnosis on file. Without this diagnosis, you will have no reputable proof of your injuries when you file your claim.
Gather documentation and evidence
While all plaintiffs in personal injury cases must provide evidence, there is an exceptionally high burden of proof required in a product liability lawsuit. A company will not admit liability for injuries caused by its products unless there is definitive evidence that the product’s defects caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries. Evidence could include medical diagnosis, witness testimonies, expert testimonies, and documentation or financial losses.
Hire a litigation attorney
Product liability law is a particularly complicated area of personal injury law. In order to file a successful suit, injured consumers should consult with a qualified litigation attorney as soon as possible. When searching for legal representation for class action lawsuits or injuries caused by defective products, prioritize attorneys with relevant experience in these areas. The representation you obtain will help strengthen your product liability claim and increase your chances of receiving compensation for your injuries.
Join any existing suits
When defective products are mass-produced, there is the potential that thousands of others have suffered similar injuries. Before your litigation attorney files a claim, they will first determine if there are any previous or ongoing claims filed against the company in question. If others have successfully sued for compensation, the courts are likely to consider that ruling as precedent (meaning you will be awarded similar compensation). On the other hand, if previous juries have ruled in favor of the company, it is unlikely that you will have grounds for your suit. In some cases, you may be eligible to join a class action lawsuit (where multiple plaintiffs take legal action at once) and be awarded a portion of the overall settlement.
File your products liability claim
If there is no ongoing lawsuit against the company, your attorney will file a defective product lawsuit against any of the above liable parties. They will seek to recover the full cost of your physical, financial, and emotional losses caused by your injuries. In most states, the statute of limitations for these claims is two years from the date of injury. That means that you should file your defective product lawsuit as soon as possible or risk forfeiting your legal right to seek full compensation for your losses.
Potential Outcomes of Product Liability Lawsuits
What should you expect when you file a product liability lawsuit? There are multiple possible outcomes of filing a product liability lawsuit. By filing a claim, victims of defective products can seek compensation for damages, including both economic and non-economic losses. Damages can be paid in either an out-of-court settlement or as the result of a trial. Additionally, both parties may be eligible to seek an appeal of a trial’s ruling.
Because taking the case to trial may result in a long, expensive, and highly publicized court case, many companies will choose to settle a product’s liability claim outside of court. This means they will offer the victims of their defective product a sum to cover their damages. It can be difficult to know what constitutes a fair settlement offer. Before accepting compensation from a company, it is important to have an experienced personal injury attorney review your case to ensure you receive fair compensation. If your attorney finds that the company has not offered you adequate compensation for your losses, your attorney can help negotiate a higher settlement than the company’s initial offer.
A product liability case may go to trial if a company refuses to offer a fair settlement or believes they have a solid case. During a product liability trial, both plaintiffs and defendants will have the opportunity to make their cases before a jury. This means providing evidence regarding the company’s liability for injuries caused by their defective product. Unlike settling out-of-court, plaintiffs are not guaranteed compensation by taking their case to trial. Any compensation for injuries will depend on the jury’s verdict.
In some cases, either the defendant or the plaintiff may choose to appeal the jury’s trial verdict. Appeals will only be granted if there is compelling evidence of a miscarriage of justice (for example, proof of a biased jury). If a product liability case goes to an appellate court, hiring an attorney with experience in this area is recommended.
How To Find a Product Liability Litigation Attorney
If you intend to file a claim against a company whose defective product caused injury to you or a loved one, you will need an experienced litigation attorney to review and represent your case. Using Expertise.com’s database of litigation attorneys, you can find quality representation in your area and more information regarding product liability lawsuits.
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