Every day, from the moment we wake up, we use a countless array of products. We may not always be aware of it, but we rely on these products to work in the way they are designed to in order to keep our families safe and healthy. From the crib we put our babies in to sleep, the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors we have in our homes, the cars we commute in every day, there are countless devices we depend upon. Most of the time, these items operate without issue, in the manner in which they are supposed to. However, sometimes a defect in the way they were made can cause them not to function properly, which can result in an injury or even death. When a product does not operate the way it should and an injury results, this could be grounds for a defective products lawsuit. This is a civil claim that can be brought against an organization who manufactured or sold an item in order to compensate the person injured by such a product for expenses incurred such as medical bills or lost wages. Different jurisdictions may have slightly different rules as to what must be established in order to prove that a product was defective. If you have any questions regarding a possibly defective product, it is best to consult with an experienced attorney in your jurisdiction. However, in general, for a successful claim, it must be demonstrated that:
1. The product was defective at the time of the injury.
For example, a young boy is injured on an ATV. An examination of the vehicle following the accident finds issues with the brakes. It must be demonstrated that any issues with the brakes existed at the time of the accident (and were not a result of physical damage to the vehicle).
2. The defective product was the proximate cause of the injury.
In following with our example above, if we assume that malfunctioning brakes were present at the time of the injury, this malfunction must have been the reason for the injury.
3. The product was in the same condition at the time of the injury that it was in at the time of manufacture.
In the case of the hypothetical ATV rider, if the boy's older brother altered the engine of the ATV so that it could attain speeds far greater than it was originally intended to maintain, then there is a strong chance the vehicle would be determined to not be in the same condition it was at the time of manufacture.
4. The product was used in a manner that was reasonably foreseeable at the time of the injury.
When a company manufactures a product, they usually engage in extensive testing to ensure that the product is safe for all consumers. However, they are only able to engineer a product that is safe for consumers to use in the ways they are able to anticipate the product being used.
Therefore, if a product is used in an unforeseen manner, it can be almost impossible to ensure that the product is safe.
To return to our ATV example, if the vehicle was being balanced on a slackline over a swimming pool, rather than being operated on a roadway, it would probably be determined that the vehicle was not being used in a reasonably foreseeable manner.
Types of Defective Products Claims
There are a variety of different types of claims that can be brought in regards to a defective product. As with the elements of a claim, the best way to determine what types of claims may be brought in your jurisdiction is to consult with an experienced attorney. As a general overview, some of the permitted types of claims are:
A manufacturing defect is an issue with the product that was the result of an error in assembly by the manufacturer. This will usually only be found in a small percentage of manufactured goods.
A manufacturer is liable for any manufacturing defect that occurs as a result of faulty construction, regardless of the level of care taken during the manufacturing process. This is due to the theory of strict liability. Therefore, a successful claim would show not that a product was dangerous in the way that it was designed (this would be design defect, as illustrated below) but that this particular product has a defect which occurred when it was created. Additionally, it must be demonstrated that this particular defect was present at the time the product left the manufacturing facility.
To return to our ATV example, if a claimant were trying to bring a manufacturing defect case against the ATV maker due to defective brakes, he or she would attempt to say that, on the day that particular vehicle left the manufacturing plant, the brakes were faulty due to a defect in assembly.
A design defect is an issue with the way in which a product was originally designed, which causes it to be unreasonably dangerous and hazardous to users. A design defect, therefore, will be found in all products of the same make or model.
In order to prove that a product was designed defectively, it must be demonstrated that it should have been foreseen that the design would result in an unreasonably dangerous product, or that another design would have been possible, which would have lessened the danger without altering the purpose of the product.
It is important to note the use of the word "unreasonably" in this definition. There are many products on the market today which have some degree of danger to them- from ATVs to kitchen knives to guns. There is a difference between designing a product that may have some degree of danger to a user and designing a product that poses an unreasonable threat.
A claim of inadequate warning refers to a product that carries warning and instructions which failed to adequately notify a potential user of the harm a product may pose, and, as a result, an injury results (which would have been prevented had the warnings/instructions on the product been adequate).
Many items we use everyday have warning labels. The type of warning label a product contains should be directly related to the degree of danger it poses to a consumer. An adequate warning label should inform the consumer of potential hazards; inform the consumer of the degree of risk involved in use; and inform the consumer of how the product should be used in order to avoid potential hazards.
Think again of an ATV. This ATV contains metal panels located directly behind the driver's legs, which, when the vehicle is in use for excess of 45 minutes, heat to a temperature that is capable of causing burn injuries. An adequate warning label would notify a user of the danger of the metal panels, and instruct the driver to wear long pants when operating the vehicle. A failure to warn potential drivers of this harm could be the grounds for an inadequate warning claim.
Theories of Products Liability
Depending on the particular jurisdiction in which you live, products liability suits may be brought under the theories of negligence, strict liability, or breach of warranty.
Strict liability: Under this theory, the injured party is only required to prove that a defect in a product was present and that an injury resulted due to this defect. If a defect did in fact exist, it does not matter to what degree the manufactured exercised care or caution when creating the product.
Negligence: Under this theory, the injured party must prove:
a) They were owed a duty of care from the defendant: the party which may be at fault is found to have a
particular responsibility towards the injured party to act or not act in a certain manner
b) The defendant breached this duty: this means that the defendant failed to act (or refrain from acting) in a
manner consistent with the responsibility owed to the injured party
c) The breach caused the injury: the action/failure to act was the cause of an injury. A defendant
may have failed to abide by a duty owed, but no claim can be brought unless an injury resulted
d) The breached caused damages: the breach must have resulted in a type of injury and this injury must have
caused the injured party to suffer some type of loss.
Breach of Warranty: Under this theory, an injured party must demonstrate that the manufacturer or seller of a product (or a party responsible for repairing a product) failed to live up to certain promises related to the condition of the product. There are a large variety of types of warranties that may cover a particular product, and if a party fails to provide a consumer with a product that adheres to these warranties, a claim for breach may be available.
Were You Injured by a Defective Product?
If you think there is a possibility that you or someone you love has been injured by a product you believe could have been defective, please contact our law offices immediately. The Gilman & Bedigian team knows the incredibly serious consequences that can result from a defective product. We are dedicated to conducting a full investigation to determine whether a defect was to blame for your injury, and we will fight for the compensation you deserve.