Manufacturers have a moral and legal obligation to make sure their products do not unduly endanger consumers when introducing products into society. Unfortunately, some manufacturers shirk those responsibilities or put their desire for profits ahead of their moral and ethical duties. Other times, a manufacturer is simply careless.
Every day, defective products injure people. You could be seriously injured because an automobile manufacturer has cut corners in the design of a car or by a machine at work that lacks required safety devices. Your injuries might also arise due to dangerous prescription drugs, defective tires, faulty ladders, defective appliances or any number of other hazardous products.
The effects of these product liability injuries can be devastating. In the short term, you might be unable to work and thus unable to provide for your family. You may incur bills for your medical treatment and not know where to turn for payment. You could have injuries that prevent you from performing activities you love or take for granted, like holding your children or cleaning your home. You may even find yourself permanently disabled.
Products liability cases are among the most complex legal cases in our court system. They almost always involve complicated legal and factual issues. You will be faced with a manufacturer and its insurance company, both of whom have the resources to fight you at every step. In product liability cases, the courts typically require the hiring of an expert witness, who can analyze the product and explain why it was or was not defective.
If you suffered an injury or financial loss as the result of a defective product, you probably have a lot of questions about filing a claim. We will look at the basics of products liability to help you get started. However, these complex cases are always best handled by an experienced defective product attorney you can trust.
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What Is Product Liability?
In the U.S., manufacturers are responsible for producing safe products or those with adequate warning labels. When a manufacturer produces something that is defective or unsafe and allows that product to reach consumers, they may be liable for the resulting damages. Product liability law is meant to protect consumers.
There is no product liability law on a federal level. Instead, you must file a product liability claim under state law. In Pennsylvania, you may file a claim based on:
- Negligence: The defendant neglected their duty to provide safe products or warnings, resulting in injury or death.
- Strict liability: Says the plaintiff does not have to prove negligence, as it can be extremely difficult to investigate the manufacturing process. Instead, the plaintiff is owed compensation if they can prove the product was unreasonably dangerous, caused injury when used as directed and was not altered by the plaintiff after purchase. Strict liability does not apply to entities who do not regularly rent or sell a product. For example, you likely cannot sue a neighbor for selling a defective cell phone at their yard sale.
- Breach of warranty: The defendant violated their agreement with the buyer regarding the quality and condition of a product.
It can be hard to determine who is liable for a defective product. Products go through many stages before they reach consumers, from the initial design to the moment the item hits the shelves. A product could become defective at any point during this process. There may be more than one party responsible for a faulty product, thus the importance of hiring an experienced lawyer to examine all possibilities. In most product liability lawsuits, one or more of the following parties may be held accountable:
Anyone involved in the design, production and distribution of a product may be held liable for injury caused by a defect.
To prove a product liability claim, you will need to be able to demonstrate that:
- The product was defective and caused your injury
- The product was what caused you harm and not something else
- You used the product as the manufacturer instructed or reasonably expected
- You were not warned about the dangers of the product
It is easier to win a product liability case than a personal injury cause because manufacturers, retailers and distributors have high safety standards to meet and obligations to fulfill. Manufacturers owe consumers the duty to provide safe products without hidden dangers.
Sometimes, a product-related injury is not the manufacturer’s fault. For example, if you buy a teacup, drop the cup on the floor and then step on broken glass, it is not the manufacturer’s fault that you broke the teacup and injured yourself. On the other hand, if you bought a microwave-safe teacup that exploded in the microwave and launched shards of glass at you, then you probably have a case.
In most instances, the goal of a products liability lawsuit is to recover compensation and keep dangerous products off the shelves. If you win your case, you can expect:
- Compensation for all expenses involved in the injury, including medical bills, damage to other belongings, missed wages and pain and suffering
- Extra compensation to punish the manufacturer for their recklessness, in hope to prevent future occurrences
What Are the Types of Product Defects?
With all the different goods on the market, it can be difficult to tell what is considered defective and what is safe. Many products include warning labels and instructions to inform consumers of potential dangers. How do you know if a product was inadequately labeled or caused injury due to a defect? To help you determine if a product is at fault for an injury, consider the following three types of product defects:
- Design defects: Design defects occur before the product is even made, and they mean the result is inherently flawed or unreasonably dangerous. For example, if an engineer designs a seat belt that comes unbuckled when a passenger coughs, they are designing a defective product that should never make it to the assembly line. If it does, the company will face many lawsuits.
- Manufacturer defects: When one product or a few of them are produced with flaws, they are considered manufacturer defects. For example, one bicycle that had been assembled with a broken chain is a manufacturer defect.
- Marketing defects: A marketing defect is when a product does not include reasonable warning labels or instructions. For example, if an appliance does not have a warning sticker stating that it gets extremely hot when left plugged in, the appliance manufacturer might have to face a lawsuit if a consumer suffers a burn.
When it comes to products liability, it does not matter if the manufacturer, designer or marketing team had good intentions. When a product is defective, someone will be held liable for causing injury.
What Are Some Defective Product Cases?
Product liability lawsuits can happen on scales, both large and small. There are plenty of examples throughout history where companies have been sued for manufacturing and selling defective products. One example is the case of General Motors Co. (GM) selling cars with faulty ignition switches, discovered in 2014. A faulty ignition switch can cause the engine to shut down while driving, disable brakes and prevent airbags from functioning properly. The plaintiffs, in this case, argue that the ignition switches were designed with flaws.
Unfortunately, the defective ignition switches have so far been linked to 13 deaths and 31 car accidents. GM has recalled over 26 million of its cars. Victims who have been injured while driving one of these faulty GM models may make a product liability claim and recover compensation for damages. Surviving members of victims who died in a car accident as a result of a faulty ignition switch may file a wrongful death claim. Victims who were aware of the recall may not be able to file a claim. However, a person who suffered an injury before the recall or who was not aware of the recall may have a case.
Another big lawsuit was in 2002 when a woman filed a claim against Philip Morris, a tobacco product producer. The woman discovered she had lung cancer as a result of smoking Philip Morris products. She sued for millions of dollars because the tobacco products she used were not properly labeled — an example of a marketing defect.
There have also been instances where cell phones have exploded and caused injury due to faulty batteries. Can you file a product liability claim if your smartphone explodes, overheats or causes harm in some other way? If the device does not come with adequate warning labels or instructions, you may have a case.
What Are Unavoidably Unsafe Products?
An unavoidably unsafe product may cause injury, but this does not mean the product is defective. Some products can be dangerous no matter what, and it is the only way the product can do what it is intended to do. For example, medications may include ingredients that cause dangerous side effects or allergic reactions but need these ingredients to work. With proper warning labels, a pharmaceutical company is not to blame if someone becomes ill while using one of their products — it is known that the product is unavoidably unsafe.
How is a product determined to be unavoidably unsafe? In a products liability case, the court will look at four different factors to decide whether a product was unavoidably unsafe or not. These include:
- Preparation: If a mistake is made while a product is manufactured and causes the product to be dangerous or useless, then this product is no longer considered unavoidably unsafe. A preparation mistake may be grounds for a product liability lawsuit.
- Marketing: If a product is not labeled correctly with adequate warnings or instructions, it cannot be considered unavoidably unsafe. Instead, it may be a marketing defect.
- Utility versus risk: A product’s purpose must outweigh the risks to be considered unavoidably unsafe. For example, if a product is designed to relieve acid reflux, but it makes the majority of its users severely ill, it is not unavoidably unsafe. This situation would be a case of a design defect.
- Available alternatives: For a product to be considered unavoidably unsafe, there must not be any available alternatives. For example, if it was discovered that a banana could relieve back pain as much as prescription pain medication, then the pain medication is not unavoidably unsafe. Instead, it would be safer to avoid the medication and the risk of side effects or overdose.
Unavoidably unsafe products are the exception to product liability, but they still need to follow certain rules, such as being probably labeled and produced without mistakes. If a pharmaceutical company, for example, manufactures tainted medications and poisons consumers, they will be held liable whether the product was considered unavoidably unsafe or not.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Products Liability in Pennsylvania?
A statute of limitations means you have a limited amount of time to file a products liability claim after an injury occurred. Once that time is up, the court will no longer consider your claim, no matter how strong your case is. An experienced products liability lawyer will make sure you do everything necessary to meet the statute of limitations deadline. In Pennsylvania, you have two years to file a products liability claim.
However, things are not always black and white, and there are certain exceptions to a statute of limitations. For example, if you smoked cigarettes that did not have a warning label on the package, and you discover you have lung disease years after using the product, you may still have a products liability case. The “discovery rule” says that the statute of limitations does not begin until an injury is discovered.
When Should I Contact a Products Liability Lawyer?
You should contact an attorney any time a product causes you injury because it is defective or not adequately labeled. Product liability cases require lawyers to conduct in-depth investigations and gather complicated evidence — difficult tasks for the inexperienced.
An attorney needs to investigate all parties involved in the chain of distribution — from product designers to product retailers — to ensure you recover all the compensation you deserve. Some parties may exist in foreign countries, but that does not mean they are not liable. It is the attorney’s job to reach all who may be held responsible for your injury, regardless of where they are located.
Large companies will naturally try to protect their reputation and their products, and they have the support they need to help them fight a lawsuit. You need an attorney who can fight back and who will make sure you are not taken advantage of by any companies, big or small.
If you suffered an injury or financial loss due to a defective product, you are owed a lot of compensation for your loss and suffering. As a consumer, you have the right to safe products. Manufacturers owe you that right. Medical bills, time lost at work, changes in your routine and any other expenses all must be accounted for. In a products liability case, you are the victim.
The lawyers at KBG Injury Law know what it takes to make a case. With years of experience in products liability and personal injury, we want to help you from the moment you file a claim to the day you win your case. You deserve safe, useful products that work as intended, and anything less is unacceptable, especially if an item caused you harm. Contact KBG Injury Law today or schedule a free consultation, and start the recovery process with lawyers who care.