Products liability, in California, is defined as an injury suffered from a manufactured item. If you have been harmed by a product, you should take steps to preserve the item in an air-tight container; notify the seller, get the names and phone number s of any witnesses; and, immediately seek medical attention.
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You make a claim for products liability when you suffer injuries from a dangerous and defective product that was defective when made. Your products liability claim for damages must be made within two years of suffering an injury from a dangerous or defective product. Your lawsuit can be brought against the seller of the product, the manufacturer of the product, and the advertiser of the product.
Products liability refers to the liability of any or all parties along the chain of manufacture of any product for damage caused by that product. This includes the manufacturer of component parts (at the top of the chain), an assembling manufacturer, the wholesaler, and the retail store owner (at the bottom of the chain). Products containing inherent defects that cause harm to a consumer (or someone to whom the product was loaned, given, etc.) of the product would be the subjects of products liability suits. While products are generally thought of as tangible personal property, products liability has stretched that definition to include intangibles (i.e. gas), naturals (i.e. pets), real estate (i.e. house), and writings (i.e. navigational charts).
Products Liability Prima Facie Case
- The defendant sells a product that the plaintiff uses.
- The defendant is the commercial seller of such a product.
- The plaintiff suffers an injury
- The product was defective when the defendant sold the product.
- The defect was an actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury.
Types of Defects
- Design defect: A defect in design that makes the entire line of products dangerous. Design defects are inherent, as they exist before the product is manufactured. While the item might serve its purpose well, it can be unreasonably dangerous to use due to a design flaw. The defendant must justify the product’s design to show why there was no defect.
- Manufacturing defect: A defect in safety for failure to produce a product in accordance with the plans and specifications. Manufacturing defects occur during the construction or production of the item. Only a few out of many products of the same type are flawed in this case.
- Marketing defect: Inadequate instructions or unclear directions for use of a product. Defects in marketing deal with improper instructions and failures to warn consumers of latent dangers in the product.
- Medical devices
- Medicine and Drugs
- Machinery and tools
- Food and tobacco
- Toxic chemicals and substances
- Autos, trucks, motorcycles and ATVs
- Automobile accessories
- Household products and appliances
- Children toys
- Recreational equipment
- Clothing and apparel
Products Liability Based on Strict Liability
Products Liability is generally considered a strict liability offense. With regard to products liability, a defendant is liable when the plaintiff proves that the product is defective, regardless of the defendant’s intent. It is irrelevant whether the manufacturer or supplier exercised great care; if there is a defect in the product that causes harm, he or she will be liable for it.
Even when a product is defective due to a design flaw, the defendant can avoid liability under one of the following tests:
- Risk-Utility Test: The defendant is not liable for a design defect if evidence shows that the product’s utility outweighs its inherent risk of harm.
- Consumer Expectation Test: A reasonable consumer would find the product defective when using the product in a reasonable manner if a reasonable consumer would not find the product to be defective even when using it in a reasonable manner, then the defendant is not liable, even if the product’s design flaw resulted in injury.
Products Liability Based on Negligence
A claim in negligence is based on the assumption that the manufacturer owes a duty of care to all those who can reasonably be expected to make use of its product. In the case of “dangerous” products such as those which, if defective, could cause extensive harm this duty may be owed to anybody who may reasonably be affected by a defect in the product. This means that a claim in negligence is not limited by the doctrine of privity of contract, which states that only a party to a contract can sue under it. A claim may be brought by a consumer-purchaser of the product, a person who uses the product or a third party bystander who is injured by the product.
Liability is not limited to the manufacturer of the product – other parties who supplied components or distributed the product may be held liable if they can be shown to have been negligent. Liability under a negligence claim may be based on:
- Failure to take care during the manufacturing process, resulting in a particular product being defective.
- Failure to take care during the design of the product, including a failure to carry out sufficiently careful research.
- Failure to carry out effective tests.
- Failure to provide an effective warning of dangers.
- Failure to recall a product, or to issue appropriate warnings if a danger becomes apparent after the product has been put into circulation.
Products Liability Based on Breach of Warranty
Product warranties are guarantees that apply to consumer products. Generally, the guarantee is that a particular product will perform in a specific way or up to a specific standard.
- Express warranty: The specific guarantees made by a seller about the product. An express warranty is usually set forth in a sales contract, but at times it is conveyed through the seller’s oral statements about the product. The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), which governs the sale of goods, includes two implied warranties. These are the implied warranty of merchantability and the implied warranty of fitness. All manufacturers and sellers are expected to sell goods that perform as expected and satisfy general standards of quality for that product type.
- Breach of Express Warranty: Express warranties are typically contained in sales contracts or when a seller expressly promises that a product will perform in a particular way. A sales contract contains express promises and can be submitted in court as proof of a breach. When a verbal promise by a salesman is at issue, it can be more challenging for a plaintiff’s attorney to prove, especially since some sales contracts specifically state that a salesperson’s warranty is not binding.
- Implied Warranty of Merchantability: An implied warranty of merchantability is a guarantee that the product does not have design defects, manufacturing defects, or improper labels. A manufacturer or seller, in holding out a product for sale, makes an implied promise that the product is fit for the purposes for which that product or similar products are sold.
- Implied Warranty of Fitness: An implied warranty of fitness arises when a seller knows a consumer is buying a product for a specific purpose, the seller knows the consumer relies on the seller’s skill and judgment in choosing the right product to accomplish that purpose, and the product is not appropriate for that purpose. Unlike an implied warranty of merchantability, a product does not need to be defective to violate the implied warranty of fitness.
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