The responsibility of manufacturers and sellers to make sure their products are safe is often called “products liability.” In general, the law holds all of those who profit from selling a product to the strict responsibility to ensure that consumers do not get hurt when using their products as intended. If you think you may have a products liability claim, you may have lots of questions. Here are some answers.
From the cars we drive to work to the tools and appliances we use in our homes and backyards, to our food and its packaging – most of us use consumer products every day, all day long. When we purchase a product, we assume that it is safe for us to use as directed and that it will function in the ways we expect it to. After all, we think, the companies profiting from the products know how to make them safe. Right?
Unfortunately, companies sometimes take shortcuts to save time and money. Sometimes, mistakes are made in the design or manufacture of products that make them unsafe. When this happens, very serious injury and even death can result.
If you have been hurt by an unsafe product, you probably have lots of questions. Should you keep it, file a warranty claim, or send it away to be repaired? Should you buy another, similar item if you need it to get through your day? Can you sue the store you bought it from or the company that manufactured it? To whom should you report this danger? Will they even listen to you?
Types of Product Liability Claims
A products liability claim comes from an injury that resulted from a defective product. Products can be defective for different reasons, as described below.
1. Manufacturing Defect
Manufacturing defects occur when the item sold to the consumer does not perform according to the way it was designed. Usually, this means that a mistake was made when the product (or sometimes a whole batch of products) was being manufactured.
2. Design Defect
If a product fails because of a design defect, this means that all of the products of the same make, model, and design also carry the same defect. These types of issues commonly result in products being recalled, since the same risk is likely to be posed to everyone who uses the product. Design defects are often costly to prove. In part, that is because companies fight so hard to defend against them – after all, if a product is proven to be across-the-board dangerous, the company will not only need to compensate injured users, but will also have to pay to redesign the product to make it safer. Sometimes, it will issue a recall.
3. Improper Warning or Lack of Warning
Many products and instruction manuals carry large, easily-visible warnings placed near potentially dangerous or hazardous areas of a product. Warnings inform consumers of the risks associated with using, manipulating, installing, or owning these products.
Proper warnings can make otherwise dangerous products safer for consumers since the person using the product can know and be acutely aware of the inherent dangers that each component of the product may possess, and how to avoid injury when using the product. If a product is defective because of improper warning or lack of warning, this means that the product would have been safe if the product contained the proper warnings and instructions for the people who use it.
4. After-Market Defects
In Maine, companies are sometimes liable when their products become defective after they are sold, such as a change in the conditions in which the product is used or after-market manipulation.
Post-sale defect claims can sometimes be tougher to prove – but they are nonetheless possible. In 2008, attorney Terry Garmey and his clients, Claire Brown and her deceased husband, Tom Brown, were the ones who convinced Maine’s Law Court to first acknowledge a post-sale duty to warn. Tom Brown was tragically killed while operating a forklift in a workplace accident. Despite many years of experience, Tom had backed the forklift into a shelf that protruded into the cabin and pinned him against the lift truck’s steering wheel, suffocating him.
When the forklift was originally sold, this danger of “horizontal intrusion” did not exist; years later, however, the defendant manufacturer had learned of new shelf designs that created the new risk, and even developed guards to protect against it for some (but not all) of its customers. After the jury heard evidence uncovered by Terry Garmey about what the manufacturer actually knew of the risk of horizontal intrusion, it returned a record $4.2 million dollar verdict for the Brown family. The manufacturer then appealed, arguing that it did not need to warn users of a danger that arose after the product was sold, even if it knew about it. The Maine Law Court agreed with the Browns, holding that the manufacturer breached its duty to warn Tom Brown’s employer of the risk of horizontal intrusion, and was therefore liable for his death.
Major Considerations for a Products Liability Claim
Product liability cases are often very expensive to litigate.
Often, multiple experts need to be involved to prove the nature of a defect and how it caused the plaintiff’s injuries. These hurdles often require specific and precise subject-matter expertise, which often comes at a hefty price tag. These experts must often spend hours investigating, testing, and replicating product defects.
Product cases can have broad impacts on a business or industry.
It is not too often that a company decides to recall or fix or stop producing their product before someone is injured by it. These types of responses often come only after manufacturers are forced to reckon with the dangers of their products in a lawsuit brought by someone gravely hurt. For that reason, product cases can lead to tremendous changes. Many, if not all, of our product liability clients, would tell you that making sure their injury doesn’t happen to anyone else is just as important to them as the money they received from the manufacturer.
Navigating a product case is lengthy and can be frustrating for plaintiffs.
When you are injured, you want justice, and often you want it quickly. Unfortunately, product cases often take time and hard work. The stakes in products cases are often so high that often every stone gets unturned on both sides even before the case gets into the long litigation process. Cases can stretch on for years as sides build up the science, the evidence, the testimony, and the backgrounds of everyone involved to argue their side of the case.
Where Do I Turn For Help With Product Liability?
There is help available to people injured by products to guide them through the process. A good attorney will know what to look for in a defective product lawsuit, who to bring on as experts, and what you will have to prove in order to be successful in your case. Your lawyers will know who to sue and can navigate the claim and litigation against all of the defendants.
If you have been seriously hurt by an unsafe product, your best option is to contact a firm like Garmey Law that have experience with a products liability claim. Like most firms that handle product cases, we operate on a contingent fee basis – meaning you won’t pay us anything unless and until you win. And of course, consultations about whether you have a case are always free.