Every day, we come in contact with hundreds of products that have the potential to malfunction. Right now, you are probably reading this on a laptop or smartphone. At some point in the next few hours, you will probably get behind the wheel of your car. There is a considerable chance that, in the past thirty minutes, you flicked on a light switch.
Unfortunately, all of these products have the potential to backfire. Smartphone batteries can overheat and explode, your car's gas pedal can get stuck, and your light bulb can burst when you turn it on. Even the safety mechanisms in these products, like the airbags in your car, can fail.
All of these are instances of products liability, which aims to hold the people and companies who made defective products accountable for the injuries that they cause to unsuspecting consumers.
What is Products Liability?
Products liability is a part of personal injury law. Personal injury law is all about using the legal system to make sure that victims of someone else's negligence receive the compensation that they need to make a full recovery and that they deserve after going through all of their pain and suffering. An important complication in personal injury law, however, is that this compensation comes from the people or organization that was ultimately responsible for the injury. This is why determining who, precisely, was at fault is such a huge component of every personal injury case. Innocent people should not be hurt. However, innocent people also should not have to compensate someone for something they did not do.
Products liability is the portion of personal injury law that focuses on injuries that come from defective products. Products liability lawsuits aim to compensate victims for the pain and suffering they went through because a product that they used or came in contact with malfunctioned, and this hurt them in some way.
For example, imagine that you are driving and a reckless driver hits you, causing a car accident. Your airbag deploys, but when it does, shards of metal shoot out from inside. These metal pieces cut through the airbag and fly into the rest of the car. Because these metal pieces shot out and slit through the airbag, you broke your nose on the steering wheel behind the deflated airbag and got several cuts on your face that required stitches and plastic surgery to fix.
There are two legal problems in a case like this. One is the car accident, which was the fault of the reckless driver. The other is the defective airbag. Importantly, the other driver, despite being reckless and causing the accident, was not necessarily the reason why you broke your nose and needed stitches and plastic surgery. The defective airbag was. So the people or companies who were ultimately responsible for the defective airbag should be the ones to compensate you for the injuries that it caused.
Basics of Product Liability Law
Unfortunately, when a product malfunctions because of a defect and hurts someone, it can be difficult to tell exactly who was at fault. Sometimes there are thousands of people at work behind a single product.
This is why product liability law breaks down defects into one of three categories: Design defects, manufacturing defects, and marketing defects.
A design defect is a problem that starts even before a particular product gets made. In fact, it is the idea behind the product that is defective. In these cases, there was something inherently wrong with how the product was designed, and this issue caused it to break and hurt you. When something that you buy was the result of a defective design, it means that all of the other products in that model are also defective.
For example, imagine you rotating fan to put on your desk and stay cool on a hot day. The sharp blades of the fan are protected by a guard. However, the openings in the guard are nearly an inch wide, making it very easy for someone's fingers to go between the gaps. This could be a design defect because the problem with the product came on the drawing board before any of these particular fans were put in production.
A manufacturing defect is a problem that happens while the particular product is being made. In these cases, a mistake was made in the manufacturing plant that resulted in a defect for some of the products that came out and went to the store. Those mistakes can be dangerous but, unlike for design defects, are often not a part of every particular product in that model or series. Instead, it can only impact a small percentage of the total number produced.
For example, imagine you bought a bunk bed for your children. The frame that you chose is supposed to have drill holes that support one size of carriage bolts. However, during manufacturing, there was a problem that resulted in some of these drill holes being too small. As a result, the carriage bolts did not support the weight that they were supposed to, and the bunk bed frame collapses. Because the design for this bunk bed frame called for one set of drill holes that would have been sufficient, but the frame you bought had improperly drilled holes, this would be a manufacturing defect that could support a products liability lawsuit.
Sometimes, there is nothing inherently wrong with the thing that hurt you. Instead, the problem comes from the promises that were made about that product, and relying on those promises caused you to get hurt. Advertisements are promises about how something will work. Additionally, warnings are there to tell you how not to use something. Both can be the basis for a products liability claim against the makers of a product that hurt you, or someone you love.
An example of a marketing defect would be if you bought a swivel chair for your office. On the box for this swivel chair was an advertisement that said it could support up to 300 pounds. When you put the chair together according to the instructions and sat down, however, it broke, despite the fact that you were under the prohibited weight.
These marketing defects can have come from multiple different sources. Advertisements that directly tell you what you can expect from a particular product are examples of express warranties. If you count on these warranties when you make the decision to buy something, products liability law understands that those warranties should be enforced. Additionally, the law recognizes that there is an unspoken warranty that products are reasonably fit for the purpose they are typically used for. Defects in a product that violate either of these warranties can be the basis for a successful products liability claim.
Who Can Be Held Responsible for a Defective Product?
One of the most complex aspects of a defective product lawsuit is pinpointing exactly who it was that is ultimately responsible. Because there are so many people and companies behind even the simplest products that get bought and sold today, finding out who was the one to make the mistake that ended up hurting you can be difficult.
The good news is that products liability claims can be made against a whole host of people and organizations that are involved in the creation and distribution of something you buy. Players up and down the supply chain can be responsible for the defect in the product that hurt you, and products liability law recognizes this.
Obviously, the company that designed and manufactured the product can be brought to court for their role in your injury. After all, they would be the ones most responsible, if it was a design or manufacturing defect that caused your injuries.
However, distributors and retailers are not outside the scope of a defective product claim. This is because distributors are also in the long list of people who ultimately bring you into contact with the defective thing that hurt you, and so could have conceivably had a hand in your injuries by, for example, mishandling it when they brought it from the manufacturing plant to the store where it was sold.
Additionally, the retailer where you bought the defective product can also be involved. This is because retailers and other merchants see similar products all the time, and are in a position to prevent you from getting hurt. Retailers can also be responsible for many of the advertising defects that can lead you into a mistaken belief about what you are buying, only to have this lead to a serious injury.
Damages in Product Defect Lawsuits
If you or someone in your family gets hurt due to a defective product malfunctioning, it is important to understand how a products liability lawsuit can help.
In a perfect world, we would be able to rewind time back to before you were hurt. That way, the injuries and your pain and suffering would not happen and you would be made whole, once again. However, the legal system is not so powerful. Instead, all that it can do is compensate you for what you have lost from the accident by giving you financial damages equal to your economic and non-economic losses.
Economic damages that you stand to receive in a successful defective product lawsuit include your current and future medical expenses, the wages you have lost from your injuries, as well as the wages you stand to lose. You can also get compensation to repair the damages that the defective product causes, so long as you were also injured, personally.
Non-economic damages are also possible in a products liability lawsuit. These damages include things that are less easily quantifiable than economic damages, like your lost wages or medical bills. Non-economic damages include compensation for more complex things, like the pain and suffering that the injury put you through, or the loss of consortium that it caused when it hurt a loved one.
Additionally, when a defective product results in the death of a family member, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed against those who are ultimately responsible. Wrongful death lawsuits are legal mechanisms that allow people who were affected by a horrendous accident to hold accountable those who were responsible. They can be brought by spouses, children, and close relatives of the deceased because the person who died from the accident can no longer enforce their own rights against those who caused the accident.
Defective Product Injury Attorneys in Washington, D.C.
Defective products can cause serious injuries. Unfortunately, as a consumer, you often have no warning that something you bought is poorly made or is about to malfunction and hurt you or those around you. Perhaps even worse, you typically have no way of finding out that something you just bought is defective: The act of buying something at a store often makes us feel confident that it will work properly.
However, companies intent on maximizing their profits often trim expenses wherever they can. Sometimes, these cuts come from the materials used in what they make, or in quality control measures they take to ensure that every one of their products that make it to the store are free of defects. When these cuts are made, you, as the purchaser and end user, can be the one who pays the price.
When this happens, it is crucial to hire a defective product attorney in Washington, D.C. that can help. By fighting for your rights and interests both in and out of court, the defective product injury attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian can make sure that you get the compensation that you need and deserve to make a full recovery from the injuries that you suffered, and hold accountable those most responsible for what you have gone through. Contact our law office online or at (800) 529-6162.