When machinery is dangerously defective, and it injuries or kills somebody using it, the injured person or the family of the person who died can file a product liability lawsuit. Through product liability law, manufacturers, distributors, suppliers and even retailers of dangerously defective products can be held liable for those injuries or deaths. Liability won’t attach if the product was purchased at a garage or estate sale. To prevail in a product liability case, the plaintiff must prove the following elements:
- The product was sold in the course of the manufacturer’s business
- The product was defective when sold since it was unreasonably dangerous when used as it was intended to be used
- The product was used in a manner that was reasonably anticipated
- The user suffered legally recognized damages as a result of the defect in the product when the product was sold
Most product liability cases are brought under the legal theory of strict liability that attaches to a defendant regardless of carelessness, negligence or even recklessness. For a defendant to be held strictly liable, the product must be sold in the usual and customary course of a company’s business. It can’t be purchased at a garage or estate sale. A product can be dangerously defective as a result of:
- A design defect
- A manufacturing defect
- Failure to provide an adequate warning of an unavoidable danger
A design defect is common to all products in an entire product line. The product is inherently dangerous regardless of the degree of care and quality of materials used in the manufacturing process. The risks of using the product can outweigh its benefits. In determining whether a dangerously defective design existed, courts will often look to whether a safer design was available that wouldn’t affect the product’s usefulness.
When a manufacturing defect exists, the design of the product isn’t called into question. The defective condition of the product arises during the manufacturing process. As opposed to a defect in an entire product line, only a handful of products in the line might have manufacturing defects.
Failure to provide an adequate warning
A failure to provide an adequate warning might also be called a marketing defect. The defect involves warnings and instructions that come with a product. A manufacturer could be held liable for failing to provide adequate warnings on a product or its packaging that might help consumers avoid injuries.
Defenses to strict liability cases
Although a plaintiff is required to prove several elements to prevail in his or her strict product liability case, the defendant need only successfully defeat any one of those elements. If that happens, the plaintiff’s entire case fails.
Misuse of a product
If a defendant successfully shows that a product wasn’t used in a manner intended, the plaintiff does not prevail. The classic example of misuse is using a pair of pliers to pound a nail. The pliers explode and plaintiff loses an eye. The pliers weren’t used in the manner intended. Along with an eye, the plaintiff loses his or her case.
Modifying a product after it has left a defendant’s hands is another defense, particularly with machinery. For example, if a defendant can show that a hand and finger guard was taken off of a table saw by the person claiming injury before he cut off part of his hand, the product liability claim is likely to be defeated. This defense can be expanded to industrial machinery too. The plaintiff is required to show that the product was defective when it left the control of the defendant.
Other product liability causes of action
When filing a product liability case, it’s likely that a plaintiff won’t plead only a strict liability claim. Other counts might include separate causes of action for:
- Breach of an express warranty
- Breach of an implied warranty
- Intentional misrepresentation or fraud
Product liability cases involve complicated litigation. Depending on the nature and extent of a victim’s injuries, large sums of money could be involved. Due to the complexity of product liability cases coupled with the resources required to successfully bring them, many lawyers won’t accept such cases.