Three Types of Product Liability Claims
Product liability refers to a manufacturer’s responsibility for allowing unsafe or defective products to find their way into consumers’ hands. Every year, countless products are recalled due to faulty manufacturing or design errors that can make products unusable and sometimes dangerous.
Recalled items can range from high-risk, like a defective bicycle that could lead to an accident, to lower risk items that do not meet a consumer’s needs, like broken cosmetics or footwear with poor traction.
While there is no federal product liability law, most states have laws in place to help consumers recover damages caused by a faulty product. Product liability law is different than general injury law and often helps plaintiffs recover damages that they would not otherwise be able to.
To recover damages from a defective product, you will need to familiarize yourself with different types of product liability claims. Different approaches to a liability claim can have different outcomes, and some are more feasible than others.
Design Defect Claim
A design defect liability claim alleges that a product is inherently flawed in its design, causing it to be dangerous or ineffectual. Design defect claims often come into play when products cause injuries due to an error in their design. In some cases, design defects can result in wrongful death.
Examples of design defects include:
- Toys with small parts that a child could swallow
- Cars with faulty brakes or airbags
- Guns that still fire with the safety on
One infamous example of a product design defect is Samsung’s exploding cell phones. In this case, the fault was not due to an error in assembling or manufacturing the phones, but rather the phone’s design.
A product’s design is generally considered dangerous if it does not perform as safely as the average user would expect. Because of this, it is sometimes possible to recover damages even if you are not the user but a bystander witnessing the product’s deficiency.
However, in Texas, if a product appears dangerous to the everyday user, the manufacturer cannot be sued for damages. To file a successful design defect claim in Texas, the plaintiff must prove not only that the design is flawed but also that:
- A safer design was readily available
- Implementing a safer design would have been economically and technologically feasible
- A safer design would not have hindered any of the product’s features
The plaintiff must also prove that the product and not another occurrence caused their injuries.
Manufacturing Defect Claim
Contrary to design defects, manufacturing defects don’t affect products widely and are sometimes only found in individual items. Manufacturing defects occur when there are errors in quality control or production, resulting in unsafe or unusable products.
A product’s design can be completely safe, but a manufacturing mistake might cause it to work differently than intended.
Manufacturing defects generally occur unintentionally and unbeknownst to the manufacturer.
For example, a manufacturing defect might occur in an assembly line where workers are not paying close attention to what they are doing.
Examples of manufacturing defects include:
- Using the wrong materials to construct a product
- Incorrectly installing wiring in a product
- Using harmful chemicals during the manufacturing process
Recovering damages from a manufacturing defect claim is relatively straightforward, as there are fewer specifications for the plaintiff to prove. In a manufacturing defect claim, the plaintiff must only prove that the product does not work as intended.
However, it can be difficult to pin a product’s defectiveness on manufacturing if it appears damaged. If a product is damaged, the plaintiff could be blamed for the defect.
Warning or Labeling Defect Claim
Warning and labeling defects occur when a product is designed and manufactured safely and as intended, but a company fails to warn consumers about potential risks and safe use. For years, the tobacco industry was inundated with lawsuits alleging they knew cigarettes were carcinogenic but failed to inform their consumers of risks.
If a product has risks or procedures that are not self-evident, the manufacturer must provide a warning and include clear instructions on safe use. If the manufacturer fails to do so, consumers have grounds for a liability claim.
For example, a child’s car seat may be designed and manufactured safely, but failure to provide adequate instructions on how to use or install the car seat might result in injury, making the manufacturer liable. Failure to warn also commonly occurs in the pharmaceutical industry, where a manufacturer might fail to identify potentially serious side effects of medication.
In a failure to warn case, a manufacturer cannot claim ignorance, as it is incumbent upon them to conduct research to ensure they are aware of all potential risks and side effects of a product. If the manufacturer fails to conduct adequate research and testing, they can be strictly liable for the consequences.