April 7, 2024 | Article by Matt Clark

What products are covered under California product liability law?

Virtually every product is subject to California product liability law. This includes everything from cars, toys, chairs, refrigerators, clothing, industrial machines, household equipment, etc. (There are some limitations in cases against medical device manufacturers and prescription drug companies.)

Isn’t it hard to take on a product manufacturer in a legal case?

Yes. Product manufacturers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars attempting to defend the design and manufacture of their products. If they lose a case, it can have monumental consequences for the manufacturer far beyond your case. Therefore, manufacturers will spend whatever money is needed to win. The only way that a plaintiff can be successful in most product liability cases is to hire an attorney who has the resources and ability to take on a large manufacturer.

If the product manufacturers spend so much money defending cases, how does a plaintiff ever win?

It is not easy, but the law is on the side of victims of defective products. California applies a “strict liability” standard to defective product cases. That means that a plaintiff does not have to prove negligence to prevail. Liability (fault) will be found if the plaintiff can prove that the product was defective and that it caused the plaintiff an injury.

What constitutes a defective product under California law?

A product may be found to be defective because of a manufacturing defect, a design defect, or a warning defect. If the plaintiff can prove any one of these defects, he or she can win the case against the manufacturer.

What is a manufacturing defect?

A manufacturing defect exists if, when the product left the manufacturer’s control, it differed from the manufacturer’s intended result or from apparently identical products of the same manufacturer and the product was used in a manner reasonably foreseeable by the plaintiff, but nonetheless caused plaintiff injury.

What is a design defect?

A design defect exists when a product is manufactured exactly as the manufacturer intended, yet the product is defective because of a design flaw. There are two tests to determine whether a design is defective. One is the “consumer expectation test” which asks if the product performed as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect. The second is the “risk-benefit test” where the question is asked if the inherent dangers of the design outweigh its benefits—in other words, can it be made safer without significantly increasing product cost.

If the product contained a disclaimer, does the manufacturer still have a duty to warn?

A product manufacturer cannot avoid a strict liability claim by placing any type of disclaimer on the product. Disclaimers are unenforceable for the purposes of product liability law. Further, a product that is not otherwise defective in manufacture or design may still be considered legally defective if a suitable warning about its dangerous propensities is not given or the manufacturer fails to provide appropriate safe use instructions.

What damages can I recover in a defective product case?

The injured person is entitled to recover damages for past and future medical treatment, past and future wage loss, damages for pain, suffering, and emotional distress, and if the injured person can establish bad enough conduct on the part of the manufacturer, punitive damages (i.e. damages intended to punish the business). If the injured person dies, his or her survivors are entitled to recover full compensation for the economic losses that result from the injured person’s death, as well as monetary damages that stem from the loss of society, care, and comfort of the decedent.