Product Defect How to File a Product Liability Claim
By Blake McKie
From the McDonald’s hot coffee case (Liebeck v. McDonald’s) to the exploding Coca-Cola bottle case (Escola v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co), there are numerous high-profile product defect lawsuits that help set precedent in this area of law.
But a case needn’t have size nor prestige to qualify as a product liability claim. Tens of thousands of product liability lawsuits are filed every year by victims and families who seek justice: A toddler toy with a choking hazard, an automobile with defective brakes, a ladder that caused a catastrophic fall.
So how do you prepare yourself to file a product liability claim? Who’s legally at fault? Here’s the information with which to equip yourself.
Linking Injury to Product Defect
Manufacturers that place defective products into the “stream of commerce” — that is, the general marketplace — are responsible for the injuries and subsequent damages caused by those products. That responsibility also flows down the entire supply chain, from manufacturer to distributor/wholesaler on to the specific retailer who sold you the product.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a faulty product, you must be able to show that the product in question had a defect or that the warnings and/or instructions were insufficient. Further, you must also be able to show that the defect in the product directly caused your injury. Being able to connect your injury to the defect is the crucial component of a successful product liability claim. Once this connection is made, you can then seek compensation in the form of damages.
Types of Liability
You may file a product liability claim against a manufacturer in one of three ways. A cause of action may be based on (1) negligence, (2) breach of warranty, or (3) strict liability.
Negligence means that the manufacturer or someone else within the supply chain failed to act with reasonable care to ensure that the product was designed and produced with your safety in mind. An individual making a negligence claim must show that the manufacturer owed a duty to produce a safe product and acted in such a manner as to breach that duty and cause damages. The higher the risk of danger/injury associated with the product, the greater the duty of care placed on the manufacturer.
Breach of Warranty
Manufacturers typically provide either express or implied assurances to you regarding the adequacy of their product. Express warranties usually arise as a result of manuals, pamphlets, or other materials that are affixed to the product itself or provided to you in the form of marketing/advertising documents or sales pitches. If the terms and promises contained in these warranty documents are not kept by the manufacturer with regards to the adequacy and performance of their product, then the warranty is said to have been breached.
An implied warranty can arise even if no written promise regarding the product is made. A product manufacturer and seller imply to you that a product being sold is “fit for a particular purpose” — meaning it's suitable for the purpose for which you will use it. A breach of an express or implied warranty entitles you to pursue a claim for injuries and damages caused by that breach.
Under this theory, a manufacturer is liable for all injuries and damages caused by a defective product that is unreasonably hazardous to you or your property. All that is required to be shown in a strict liability claim is that the product was defective, that the defect existed when the product left the manufacturer’s facility, and that the defect caused injury and damages to you as a foreseeable user of the product.
Three Product Defect Categories
There are different types of defects that may result in a product liability case. Does your case fall within one of these categories?
- Manufacturing Defect: In this case, the defect occurred during assembly or manufacturing, which made the product unsafe for its intended use. Manufacturing defects typically arise during a product’s production, diverging from the design that was intended by the manufacturer. An example would be a bicycle helmet assembled with the wrong materials, which then fails to perform correctly, resulting in an injury.
- Design Defect: A design defect refers to a product that is designed incorrectly or lacks proper specifications and is therefore unreasonably dangerous. A design defect results in an entire product line being harmful to the user. An example would be an improperly designed car tire that bursts spontaneously, leading to widespread accidents as a result.
- Improper Warning/Lack of Warning: Manufacturers have a duty to warn you against a use of a product that may be hazardous to you or your property. Further, the manufacturer must provide warnings that are sufficient to prevent you from using the product improperly or in a way that leads to injury. However, just because warnings are provided in the labeling or the instruction documents does not mean they are sufficient. It’s also important to note that a product manufacturer still has a duty to warn against a defect or hazard that is discovered after the product has been sold to you.
Product Liability Attorneys: Taking the Next Step
The lawyers at Duffy & Young have successfully litigated numerous product liability cases on behalf of their clients throughout South Carolina. Our lawyers possess the knowledge and skill set to be the best advocate for you when facing a product manufacturer. To maximize your recovery and tell your story to a jury of your peers, you need an experienced lawyer with case experience.
Learn more about our approach and experience in products liability.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a defective product, contact Duffy & Young to learn the best steps to take.