Liability and the law: Who’s responsible for bad products?

For those injured due to defective products in the consumer marketplace, determining who is responsible for the defect is critical to ensure the best outcome for any legal actions.

According to general product liability law, the responsibility for injuries caused by defective products may rest with the manufacturer, the suppliers of defective parts, the wholesale distributor, or the retail outlet that sold the product. Working with an attorney experienced in the product liability field can help determine the responsible party in these cases.

Types of product defects

In general, three types of defects form the basis for most product liability lawsuits:

Marketing defects include false or incomplete labeling, improper instructions, or failure to include safety warnings regarding the risks involved with use of the product. For instance, pharmaceutical products that do not contain a list of all known side effects may be subject to product liability lawsuits under the marketing defect category.

Design defects occur when a product constructed to the intended specifications is unsafe for use as intended. This is generally due to failures or oversights during the initial design of a product.

Manufacture defects are the result of mistakes or malfunctions during the manufacturing process. Many automotive recalls are the result of manufacturing errors that were not intended nor a part of the normal construction process.

Some products are unsafe as a function of their intended use. For example, chainsaws are intended to saw through wood and cannot perform this task while simultaneously remaining harmless to humans under all circumstances. In these cases, warning labels must clearly outline the risks and the procedures for safe use. This can protect manufacturers against liability lawsuits resulting from injuries sustained through improper use of their products.

Rules of liability

The principle of strict liability allows consumers to prevail in product liability cases even if they cannot directly prove negligence on the part of any part of the distribution chain. The fact that a product is defective is sufficient evidence of negligence under strict liability; no other proof of negligence is required on the part of plaintiffs. This is supported by the principle of res ipsa loquitur, which also states that the presence of a defect can serve as proof of negligence in the absence of other evidence.

In some cases, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers can successfully argue that the responsibility for injuries incurred during the use of their products should rest with the consumer:

If the product has been altered significantly from its original condition

If the product was not used according to the included instructions

If the company or party named in the lawsuit was not actually involved in the manufacture or distribution of the product in question

Working with a qualified attorney is generally the best way to pursue a product liability claim to hold corporations and distributors responsible for their failure to protect the public from defective or dangerous products.


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