February 26, 2024 | Article by Chain | Cohn | Clark staff

When you buy an item and use it for its intended purpose, the last thing on your mind is getting injured because of a product defect. As consumers, we have a reasonable expectation that the goods we buy are safe to use.

Product liability laws protect consumers by holding companies and individuals responsible for injuries and deaths resulting from the products they create or sell. These laws should make manufacturers and sellers think twice before putting dangerous products on the market.

If you have injuries caused by a defective product, you can sue any party in the product’s chain of distribution—the companies and individuals that created and sold the product. This includes:

  • Designers: Those who devised the plan for putting a product together—both its inner workings and outward appearance.
  • Manufacturers: Those who created the physical product—whether the work was done on a factory assembly line or in a garage workshop.
  • Parts suppliers: Some manufacturers’ products include components made by other companies. If a part within a product fails, the parts supplier and the manufacturer are both liable.
  • Sellers: Anyone involved in the sale of the product in question, including distributors, wholesalers, and retailers.

What Counts as a Defective Product?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word defective means “having a defect or flaw: imperfect in form, structure, or function.” In product liability lawsuits, there are three ways a product can be considered defective:

  1. It has a manufacturing defect—an undetected weakness from when it was assembled that causes it to malfunction or fail later on. Manufacturing defects are usually random occurrences—they don’t follow any pattern.
  2. It has a design defect—a weakness in how the product designer planned to put it together. Design defects often follow a pattern—the weakness or defect is part of the product’s design, so the same flaw is present in every item that comes off the assembly line.
  3. It has inadequate instructions or warnings of potential risks. Some products are safe to use for their intended purpose but are dangerous when used in other ways. If the instructions or included warnings don’t alert people to these hazards, the product can be considered defective.

As a public service, Chain | Cohn | Clark maintains a web page that alerts people to recent product recalls.

Two Ways to Prove a Product Liability Claim

Product liability claims fall under a broad area of law called personal injury law. A personal injury involves harm to your physical or emotional well-being, property, or reputation. If you suffer harm because of someone else’s carelessness or deliberate actions, a personal injury lawyer can help you file a lawsuit and recover damages.

In most personal injury cases, the plaintiff (the person making a claim) must prove that the defendant (the person responsible for the accident or injury) was negligent—meaning they did not act with reasonable care. For example, if you are injured in a car accident, you must show that the other driver’s carelessness caused the accident that resulted in your injuries in order to collect damages.

Product liability cases are different, because there are two ways you can prove your claim:

  1. Negligence: You can win a product liability case by showing that a manufacturer was negligent. For example, you may be able to show that the manufacturer didn’t bother to test a product to ensure that it would work properly.
  2. Strict liability: Under strict liability, you don’t have to prove negligence. You only need to show that you were harmed by a product that had a manufacturing defect, design defect, or inadequate instructions or safety warnings.

In general, it’s easier to prove strict liability than it is to prove negligence. So, most product liability lawyers seek to prove defective product cases through strict liability.

Joint and Several Liability: Suing Multiple Defendants

Because plaintiffs can argue product liability cases based on strict liability, there are often multiple defendants in a product liability lawsuit.

Here’s how it works:

  • Suppose you have injuries caused by a faulty product. All the companies involved in the design, manufacture, distribution, and sale of the product have a joint responsibility for the economic damages you suffer. Economic damages include things that can easily be assigned a dollar amount, such as the cost of your medical treatment and wages lost while recovering from injuries.
  • The companies involved in a product’s design, manufacture, distribution, and sale have what is called several responsibility for the noneconomic damages you suffer. Several liability means they’re only responsible for paying noneconomic damages in proportion to how much they were to blame for your injuries. For example, suppose a product is well-designed, but a manufacturing error results in a product failure that causes an injury. The manufacturer is likely to bear more responsibility for your noneconomic damages than the designer. Noneconomic damages include intangible things like pain and suffering or the loss of a loved one’s companionship in a wrongful death claim.

Bakersfield Product Liability Attorneys

If you suffered an injury or had a family member die due to a defective product, you may be able to secure damages through a product liability lawsuit. The experienced Bakersfield product liability lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Clark have the expertise needed to investigate and pursue these complicated cases.

For a free consultation with no obligation to you, contact us today.