What Is Product Liability?

Product liability is a legal concept that holds manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, and retailers responsible if the products they sell cause harm. This area of personal injury law ensures that companies are accountable for designing, manufacturing, and selling products that are safe for consumers.

If you buy a product that injures you because it is defective, dangerous, or lacks proper instructions, you might have a valid product liability claim. This means you could file a claim to demand that the manufacturer or other liable party pay for your injuries, medical bills, and related losses.

The Importance of Product Safety

Product safety is critical because it protects consumers from harm while we use everyday items. Companies must ensure that their products meet safety standards to prevent injuries and dangers to health. For example, a toy for small children should not have small parts that could cause choking. Similarly, electrical appliances should have proper insulation to prevent shocks. Pharmaceutical drugs should undergo rigorous testing before they are put on the market, and the facilities they’re made in should be inspected and cleaned regularly.

When manufacturers cut corners and put profits ahead of the safety of their consumers, they can and should be held responsible for the harm they cause. Not only is it important for the individual victims to receive compensation from the companies that hurt them, but it is also critical to society at large to deter similar behavior in the future.

Manufacturers’ Responsibilities vs. Consumer Rights

Manufacturers have specific responsibilities regarding the safety of their products. They must design items that are functional and safe to use under normal conditions. This means using safe materials and adhering to the latest safety standards. It also means providing instructions for a product’s use and warning labels for potential risks. Manufacturers must also conduct rigorous product testing to identify potential risks and correct any hazards they discover.

As consumers, we have rights that protect us when we purchase and use products. One fundamental consumer right is the expectation that any products we buy will be safe when we use them as directed. If a product is defectively designed, manufactured, or marketed and causes harm – that is, if it is inherently unsafe to use as it is meant to be – injured consumers can seek compensation for their injuries. This compensation can cover various losses stemming from consumer injuries, including medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages that arise from using a faulty product.

Types of Product Liability Claims

Three main types of defects can give rise to product liability claims: design defects, manufacturing defects, and marketing defects. You might have grounds for a claim if a product defect that falls into any of these categories causes you harm.

Defective Design and Its Implications

A design is defective if any item produced from it is inherently unsafe to use, even when it is manufactured to specifications. Design defects can lead to serious risks because they affect every item a manufacturer produces using the same defective blueprint. For example, a car model with a brake system that’s prone to corrosion and sudden failure would be dangerous to all buyers, not just a few who received poorly assembled units. No matter how well this braking system was manufactured or maintained, it would still be dangerous because of an inherent design flaw.

Manufacturers are responsible for ensuring their product designs are free from any defects that could harm users. They must test their product designs under various conditions to spot potential issues. If they find a defect, they must recall the affected products and correct the flaw to make the products safe for use. Manufacturers who fail to do so can be liable for defective designs in product liability claims.

Manufacturing Defects: A Closer Look

A manufacturing defect happens when a product that was properly designed becomes dangerously flawed because of errors that occurred during its production. These defects can happen if a factory uses the wrong materials, makes mistakes during assembly, or fails to follow the correct manufacturing processes. Unlike design defects, which affect every item made from the defective blueprint, manufacturing defects typically only impact certain batches or individual items.

For instance, imagine a type of bicycle that will be perfectly safe if the manufacturer produces and assembles it according to certain design specifications. However, during the manufacturing process, the wrong type of gear gets installed on some of the bicycles. Only those bicycles with defective gears are likely to fail and pose a risk to riders; all bicycles with the right gear are safe to use. Manufacturers are responsible for maintaining quality control standards to prevent manufacturing defects and ensure that all their products meet safety requirements before being sold to consumers.

The Significance of Failure to Warn (Marketing Defects)

A marketing defect, also known as a failure to warn, occurs when a manufacturer fails to properly communicate a product’s risks to consumers. Manufacturers must provide clear and effective warnings and instructions explaining how to safely use their products. Without these warnings, even well-designed and well-made products can be dangerous.

For example, suppose a cleaning chemical is safe to use as long as it does not come into direct contact with skin, but the label does not warn consumers to wear gloves while using it. This is a marketing defect. As another example, a manufacturer could be liable for any resulting consumer injuries if a pharmaceutical drug has dangerous reactions when taken with another medicine, but warnings of this contraindication were not included on the drug’s label. Manufacturers must assess potential risks associated with their products and communicate them clearly to consumers.

Gavel and mallet next to a shopping cart to represent product liability

The Legal Framework Surrounding Product Liability

The legal framework surrounding product liability involves three key concepts: negligence, strict liability, and warranty breaches. Each of these concepts provides a basis for filing a claim if a product causes harm. In product liability cases, courts examine whether the situation at hand fits into one of these categories to determine the manufacturer’s liability. Understanding the distinctions between these concepts allows consumers to identify how best to proceed with their legal claims if they experience product-related injuries.

Strict Liability: What It Means for Consumers

In product liability cases based on strict liability, a company is responsible for any harm its products cause, regardless of how much care the company takes during design and manufacturing. Under strict liability, you do not need to prove that a manufacturer’s behavior caused the defect. You only need to show that the product was defective, that it harmed you while you were using it as intended, and that the defect was present when the product left the manufacturer’s control.

For instance, if a blender’s blades shatter during normal use and cause injury, the manufacturer could be strictly liable. The injured consumer would just need to prove that they used the blender correctly and that the defect existed when they purchased the blender.

However, there are some exceptions that certain courts might apply to product liability claims based on strict liability. For example, under the “risk vs. utility test,” the court will consider the expense of correcting a possible error versus the likelihood that the error might cause an injury and the potential severity of that injury.

Understanding Negligence in Product Liability

Negligence in product liability cases involves a company failing to take reasonable care in designing, manufacturing, or marketing its products. It is often a higher bar to clear than in strict liability cases, as you must prove several key points to win a product liability claim based on negligence. Specifically, you must show that the company had a duty to provide a safe product and failed to fulfill this duty through its carelessness. You must also show that this carelessness directly caused your injury and that your injury resulted in measurable losses, such as medical bills or lost wages.

For example, suppose a car manufacturer knows about a brake problem in one of its vehicle models but decides not to fix it or warn buyers, leading to an accident. In that case, the company could be liable for negligence in a product liability claim. This is because the company’s failure to act responsibly put consumers at risk and caused actual harm.

Negligence-based product liability claims can be brought along with or instead of strict liability claims for the same defect, depending on the facts of the case. Since these approaches involve different allegations, a manufacturer could win a strict liability case while losing a negligence case, or vice versa.

Warranty Breaches and Consumer Protection

In the context of a product liability case, a warranty breach occurs when a product fails to meet the standards promised by its warranty. There are two main types of warranties: express warranties and implied warranties.

An express warranty is a seller’s promise or guarantee that a product will meet a certain level of quality and reliability. For example, if a cell phone manufacturer claims a phone is waterproof, but it electrocutes its user after getting splashed, this could be a breach of express warranty.

Implied warranties automatically apply by law and hold that a product is fit for its intended use. For instance, when you buy a toaster, there is an implied warranty that it will toast bread. If the toaster cannot safely or effectively toast bread, it breaches the implied warranty.

If a product causes harm because it does not live up to its express or implied warranties, consumers can file product liability claims based on this breach. These claims allow consumers to seek compensation for harmful products that do not perform as expected.

How to Pursue a Product Liability Claim

If you’re injured by a product with a design, manufacturing, or marketing defect, you might have a product liability claim. Here’s what you need to know about how to lay the groundwork for your claim, the types of evidence you might need, and how a product liability lawyer can help.

What to Do After a Defective Product Causes Injury

If a defective product injures you, you should take immediate steps to protect your rights and establish a strong product liability claim. Here’s what you should do:

  • Stop using the product immediately. Preserve the product in the same condition it was in after the incident, and do not attempt to repair or alter the product in any way. Keep all packaging and instructions that came with the product, and save all receipts and proof of purchase for the product.
  • Take photos of the product, your injuries, and the location where your injury occurred. Collect names and contact information from any witnesses. Write down your account of what happened while it’s fresh in your mind.
  • Set up a file to organize all documents and evidence related to your case and keep the above items in it.
  • Seek medical attention and tell your treating physician that you were injured using the product. Doing so will create a record that ties your injuries to the defective product.
  • Gather evidence of any expenses you have incurred due to your injury, including medical bills. Keep track of any time away from work or income losses resulting from the injury. Add these items to your file.
  • Contact a product liability attorney, schedule a free consultation, and bring your evidence file with you to the meeting.
  • Avoid making public statements or posting about the incident on social media. Do not sign any documents from manufacturers or insurers without legal advice. Do not accept any settlement offers without consulting your lawyer.

Gathering Evidence and Documentation

If you have a product liability claim, it’s important to gather a wide range of evidence and documentation to support your case. Your lawyer can use various documents and pieces of evidence to prove that a product was defective and caused your injury. Here are some examples of evidence your attorney might use for your product liability case.

  • The defective product itself
  • Photos and videos of the defective product and your injuries
  • Medical records related to your injuries
  • Expert testimony about the product’s design, safety, and manufacturing process
  • Comparative analysis of similar products in the market
  • Witness statements from people who saw the incident
  • Recall notices for the product
  • The product’s instruction manual and packaging
  • Purchase receipts showing when and where you bought the product
  • Previous complaints or lawsuits involving similar defects with the same product
  • Safety testing records for the product
  • Emails or internal documents from the manufacturer regarding the product’s safety
  • Depositions from the manufacturer’s employees
  • Government safety inspection reports on the manufacturer

The Importance of Legal Representation

Legal representation is critical in product liability claims. A knowledgeable product liability lawyer will know how to navigate the complex laws and procedures that govern these cases. They can effectively gather and present evidence, select a cause of action and strategy based on the facts of the case and negotiate with large companies and their insurers. A skilled attorney will also handle all filings in a timely manner and meet the relevant legal standards, which is essential for a successful claim.

Your lawyer can also calculate the full value of your claim and fight to get maximum compensation for your injuries, lost wages, and more. They can handle the stress of legal proceedings while you focus on recovery. Without an experienced lawyer, it will be extremely challenging to go up against powerful manufacturers and win your case.

Understanding the legal process helps you know what to expect as you get ready to pursue a product liability claim. Let’s take a closer look at how to file a claim, pursue litigation in court, and decide whether to accept a settlement or go to trial.

Filing Your Claim: A Step-by-Step Guide

Filing a product liability claim involves several key steps. First, you need to preserve evidence of the defect. Start by gathering the product, if possible, and anything that might suggest what was wrong with it. This includes photographs, the product manual, and receipts.

Next, document your injuries with medical records and notes from your doctor. This will show the direct impact of the defect on your health. Then, consult a product liability lawyer who can provide advice and guide you through the legal process.

Your lawyer will send a demand letter to the liable parties, which will detail the defective product, describe your injury, and explain how the product caused you harm. Your claim must also describe the compensation you are seeking for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other related losses.

Next, your lawyer will negotiate with the liable party and their insurers, seeking a settlement that pays you fairly without having to go to trial. However, if the liable party won’t make a reasonable offer, your lawyer can file a complaint, beginning the formal litigation process.

The Litigation Process Explained

The litigation process begins when you file a lawsuit against the manufacturer or retailer of a defective product, possibly after one or more initial rounds of negotiation. First, you submit a legal document called a complaint, which states your case, names the defendant you’re blaming for your injuries, and describes the money you’re demanding. Then, the defendant will respond with an answer defending their position.

Next, both sides gather and exchange evidence in a phase called discovery. This includes sharing documents, taking depositions, and collecting expert testimonies. After discovery, the case might go to mediation to work toward a settlement without a trial. If a settlement isn’t possible, the case could proceed to trial, where a judge or jury will hear the arguments from both sides and make a decision on the claim.

Settlements vs. Going to Trial

Depending on how your product liability claim unfolds, you might need to decide between accepting a settlement and going to trial. A settlement involves the defendant paying you money in exchange for you dropping the lawsuit against them. This is usually faster, less expensive, and less stressful than a trial. You receive guaranteed compensation from the other party, and they avoid public scrutiny and a precedent for further litigation because the settlement details remain private.

Going to trial, however, means letting a judge or jury decide the outcome. Trials can provide higher compensation payouts if you win, but they are risky, costly, and time-consuming. Trials are also public, which can add pressure and draw attention to your case. If you are deciding between a settlement and a trial, your lawyer can advise you on the ideal course of action based on the strength of your case and your personal circumstances.

Shopping blocks to represent potential product liability

Types of Compensation Available

A successful product liability case could provide you with several types of damages – monetary compensation for the harm you suffered due to the defective product. The purpose of these damages is to reimburse you for the various losses you incurred due to your injury, restoring your finances and quality of life as closely as possible to the way they were before the incident. They can also hold the defendant accountable for their bad behavior. Below, we’ll discuss the main categories of compensation available in product liability claims.

Medical Expenses and Rehabilitation Costs

This type of compensation covers all necessary medical treatments resulting from your injury. This includes emergency room visits, surgeries, medications, and future medical appointments or procedures. It also includes rehabilitative services such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, or any specialized equipment you need for your recovery, like wheelchairs or home modifications. The purpose of this category of damages is to prevent you from having to pay out of pocket for the expenses you incur while healing from your injuries.

Lost Wages and Earning Capacity

This type of compensation could be available if your defective product injury prevented you from working and earning a living during your recovery. It includes compensation for the wages you missed while recovering, such as hourly wages, salaried income, and tips. If you used paid time off (PTO) benefits while you were too hurt to work, you could receive compensation to make up for the PTO you lost. Additionally, if your injury permanently affects your ability to work, your compensation payout could include money for projected future income losses.

Pain, Suffering, and Emotional Distress

These damages compensate you for the subjective effects of your injury. This includes the pain you endured during and after your recovery and the emotional impact of the ordeal, such as anxiety, depression, or loss of enjoyment of life. This type of compensation acknowledges that injuries can have a profound psychological impact and offers some relief for these intangible hardships.

Punitive Damages in Product Liability Cases

Punitive damages serve a different purpose than the compensatory damages we discussed above. They are not meant to compensate you but to punish the defendant for particularly egregious behavior and to deter similar conduct in the future. These damages are available in rare cases where the defendant’s actions were particularly reckless or showed a gross disregard for public safety. Punitive damages send a strong message to manufacturers and retailers about the severe consequences of neglecting consumer safety.

Los Angeles Product Liability Laws

Los Angeles product liability laws provide essential protections for consumers. These laws aim to hold manufacturers, distributors, and retailers accountable if their products fail to meet safety standards and cause harm to everyday users.

California has a number of laws and court decisions on the books that protect consumers from dangerous products and allow them to seek compensation when dangerous products injure them.

  • One fundamental rule was created by the 1972 court case Cronin v. J.B.E. Olson Corp. William Cronin was driving a bread delivery truck when a defective hasp broke and sent bread trays slamming into him. He suffered severe injuries and sued the manufacturer of the truck on a claim of strict liability. The jury found in Cronin’s favor but was not told that Cronin had to prove that an unreasonably defective condition caused his injuries. J.B.E. Olson Corp appealed to the California Supreme Court, which unanimously held that a company is strictly liable for any injuries caused by their defective product and that the victim does not need to prove the product was particularly dangerous. The court’s ruling in this case cemented strong strict liability protections for consumers in California.
  • Another critical law is found in § 1714.45 of the California Civil Code, which protects manufacturers of certain consumer products known to be unsafe from litigation. For example, a company that distills whiskey cannot be held liable for liver cirrhosis someone developed from excessive drinking of their product.
  • California law also requires manufacturers to consider reasonably foreseeable uses when designing, manufacturing, and selling products. Reasonably foreseeable use describes how an average person might use or even misuse a product. If a consumer uses a product in a way that was reasonably foreseeable and gets hurt, the manufacturer or seller could be legally responsible for the consumer’s injuries.

While manufacturers cannot completely eliminate all dangers related to their products, they must take reasonable steps to minimize potential harm. These precautions might involve improving a product’s design, carefully manufacturing the product, inspecting it before it goes to market, or providing adequate warnings about its use.

How Local Laws Affect Your Claim

Local laws in Los Angeles, California, can significantly affect your product liability claim. For instance, California’s comparative negligence doctrine could come into play if you get hurt by a defective product but also share some of the blame for the injury accident.

Under California’s comparative negligence doctrine, the total amount of compensation available for your product liability claim can decrease based on your share of fault. For instance, let’s say the court determines that you were 20 percent responsible for an injury accident, and your damages total $100,000. In that case, the most you could receive is 80 percent of the total damages, or $80,000. This reduction reflects your share of responsibility for causing the injury.

Critically, California’s Supreme Court ruled in 1978’s Daly v. General Motors that, despite its name, the concept of comparative negligence could also be applied to claims of strict liability.

Another important aspect of California law is the statute of limitations for product liability cases. Under this law, you have two years from the date of your defective product injury to file a lawsuit against a manufacturer or seller. If you miss this two-year filing deadline, you will likely lose the opportunity to seek compensation for your injuries.

Understanding these local laws is essential when preparing a product liability claim. They can determine both the potential success of your case and the amount of compensation you can recover. A knowledgeable attorney who understands the legal landscape in Los Angeles can handle these complexities and advocate effectively on your behalf.

Finding Legal Help in Los Angeles

Finding the right lawyer is critical if you know or suspect you have a product liability claim in Los Angeles. As this practice area is highly complex, you should look for an attorney with a significant background in product liability law. An experienced lawyer with a track record of success in these cases will have a deep understanding of state and federal laws and know how to handle the specific challenges of the California court system.

Additionally, remember to evaluate their communication skills and willingness to engage with you as a client. You want someone approachable who explains the legal process clearly and keeps you informed every step of the way.

Finally, always discuss fee structures upfront. Many product liability lawyers work on a contingency basis, meaning they only get paid if they win your case. However, it’s important to confirm this and understand any potential costs before you agree to hire an attorney.

Schedule a Free Consultation With Our Southern California Product Liability Attorneys

Are you ready to take action against the manufacturer of a defective product in Los Angeles? The attorneys at Ardalan & Associates are ready to help you seek the compensation you deserve for your injuries. We can stand up to large corporations on your behalf and handle every aspect of your product liability claim while you focus on your recovery. Contact us today for a free initial consultation with our attentive team to explore your legal options.

Ardalan & Associates, PLC is a personal injury law firm based in Thousand Oaks, serving all of Southern California, including Los Angeles, Ventura, Kern, and Orange County. We are committed to helping our clients involved in car accidents seek justice and navigate their legal journey.

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