What Are Product Liability Lawsuits?

The underlying premise of a product liability lawsuit is that product manufacturers, as well as designers and other parties within the distribution chain, have both a legal and moral responsibility to their customers to make sure they provide a safe product.

There are several types of lawsuits that can fall into the larger category of personal injury claims. They are similar to one another in that they often have the same statute of limitations, and the objective is to recover compensation for harm and damages.

There are differences in these claims, too, though.

Personal injury claims can stem from car and motorcycle accidents, slip and fall accidents, pedestrian accidents, and also product liability. 

A product liability claim arises from a situation where a product itself causes an injury or even a death.

When you file a lawsuit after you’ve suffered injuries, you may receive compensation for your medical expenses as well as things like pain and suffering and lost wages.

Below is more information about product liability lawsuits specifically.

The Premise

The underlying premise of a product liability lawsuit is that product manufacturers, as well as designers and other parties within the distribution chain, have both a legal and moral responsibility to their customers to make sure they provide a safe product.

If a customer is hurt or even killed by a defective product, manufacturers, designers, and other responsible parties might be held responsible or liable for their injuries.

Product liability cases can involve consumer products, defective vehicle parts, defective drugs or medical products, or cases where the issue came from inadequate safety or usage instructions.

The law requires that a product adheres to the customer’s general expectations.

There’s not any general federal law guiding product liability law, and typically these cases are based on state laws.

Strict Product Liability Claims

Most product liability claims fall into the category of strict liability law.

With strict liability law, you don’t have to prove negligence.

Instead, you have to prove three things. You have to show the product that injured you was either sold with a defect or didn’t have a warning label that it should have had.

The second thing to prove in strict liability claims is that the manufacturer meant for the product to be sold without it being changed.

Then you have to show you were hurt or your property was damaged by the problematic product.

There are also product liability claims that are based on negligence, although they’re less common. To show negligence by a manufacturer, you have to first prove that they owed you a duty of reasonable care.

You then have to show the manufacturer breached that duty, and then you have to show that breach led to your injury. You also have to demonstrate proof of your injury.

Defective Product

A defective product is one that can’t be used for what it’s meant to be.

There are three defect categories.

There are design defects. A product that has a design defect is exposing you as a consumer to risk, even though you’re using it the right way.

To recover damages with a product that has a design defect, you have to show what the defect is and how it caused you harm. You also have to show you were using it correctly.

The next category is a manufacturing defect. When a manufacturer doesn’t follow the design plans for the product, and it harms a user, it could fall into this category. Specific examples of a manufacturing defect might include making a mistake in how a product is assembled or using the wrong parts.

Then, a third category is a marketing defect.

This means that maybe a product didn’t have the appropriate warnings or instructions with it, and that led to harm.

Well-Known Product Defect Cases

The following are examples of some of the more well-known product defect cases:

  • McDonald’s Coffee: Most people remember this case. A woman suffered third-degree burns because she spilled a cup of coffee from McDonald’s on her lap. The case went to trial, and McDonald’s was found liable because the coffee was served at a higher temperature than other companies served theirs. The woman got more than $2.8 million in punitive damages and $160,000 for medical expenses.
  • Toyota paid more than $1 billion to settle a class-action lawsuit when millions of their vehicles were recalled in 2010 following accidents and deaths from a sticky accelerator pedal.
  • Johnson & Johnson has come up against thousands of lawsuits because of the potential for their talc products to cause cancer. The company stopped selling their talcum-based baby powder, and they’ve paid billions to settle claims.
  • The Monsanto company has faced a number of claims in recent years because of links between their Roundup product and the development of cancer. Roundup is a weed killer, and it’s been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The carcinogenic ingredient in Roundup is called glyphosate.
  • In 2002 the Philip Morris tobacco company faced charges by a woman who had lung cancer. She claimed smoking had caused her illness and that she was addicted to tobacco because the company failed to warn her of the risks. The company was ordered to pay punitive damages and $850,000 in compensatory damages. The Philip Morris company did appeal the case and nine years later the punitive damages were reduced to $28 million.
  • The Down Corning company reached a $3.2 billion settlement as part of a class-action lawsuit by customers who made the claim that their silicone breast implants were injuring them and making them sick. The individual women in the case received between $12,000 and $60,000, and the company also paid $5,000 to women who wanted to remove their implants and $25,000 to women whose implants ruptured.

What If You Were Hurt by a Product?

If you were hurt because of a product, you might consider speaking to an attorney about a product liability lawsuit.

You may in these cases and depending on your state be able to recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded to punish defendants in lawsuits for their negligent behavior. Defendants may also have to pay damages for medical expenses. Usually, punitive damages are awarded when the defendant is found guilty of gross negligence or intentionally doing something wrong.

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