Defective Products Legal Information
 

OVERVIEW

Defective products lawyers help their clients sue over serious injuries or deaths caused by using a defective consumer product. A defective product can be any type of product intended for use by consumers, rather than manufacturers or distributors. That can include nearly everything we buy -- food, clothing, household products, consumer electronics, toys, jewelry, appliances and more. It also includes medication and medical devices, both prescription and over-the-counter. An example of this is DePuy hip replacements where the victims are filing DePuy hip lawsuits as a result of the many side effects that are causing pain to those who have received the implant. 

Most of us buy consumer products with confidence. We believe a manufacturer wouldn’t offer us products for sale if they weren’t safe. Unfortunately, that’s not always true. Through bad design, shoddy manufacturing, carelessness or cost-cutting, thousands of consumer products slip through the cracks each year. And sometimes, those products seriously injure or even kill their users. This may spark a recall, but for the injured consumer, it’s usually too late. For those consumers and their families, the only recourse is often a defective products lawsuit. Such a lawsuit can’t undo the injury, but it can provide the financial compensation that victims need to pay medical bills and repair costs, replace lost wages, and compensate victims for pain, suffering and any death or permanent disability left by the injuries the product caused.

 

“WHAT COUNTS AS A DEFECTIVE PRODUCT?”

Any product with a flaw of some kind can be considered defective. But the law recognizes three ways in which you may claim
a product is defective:

  1. Design defects are problems included in the plan for making the product. A product is defective by design if, when the designers or engineers made the original plan for the product, they included some flaw that they should have known would lead to injuries. An example of a design defect might be a car with the gas tank placed very close to the back bumper, which can cause an explosion if the car is “rear-ended.”
  2. Manufacturing defects are introduced during the making of the product. The design may be safe and free of flaws, but sometime in the process of manufacturing or producing the product, the product picked up a new problem. One example could be bacterial contamination at a meat-processing facility. The meat itself might be fine, but if the facility’s equipment is tainted, all of the meat processed with that equipment could pick up the bacteria.
  3. Failure to warn is a defect in the way manufacturers instruct you to use the product. If the product could reasonably be dangerous when used correctly, the manufacturer has a responsibility to tell you about that danger. For example, if an over-the-counter cold medicine could make you too sleepy to drive safely, the packaging must tell you so. If it does not, the manufacturer is legally liable for any injuries that result.

You may claim more than one of these types of flaws in a defective products lawsuit. However, you will likely have to show that you did not misuse the product, that you followed the directions and that you were not negligent (extremely careless) in using it. Those are common defenses manufacturers may use in a defective product lawsuit.

 

“WHAT LAWS AFFECT DEFECTIVE PRODUCTS?”

Product defects are rarely covered by criminal laws. Rather, victims of defective products in all U.S. states can seek relief under one or more civil laws, including:

  • Strict liability, which is the most common basis for defective product lawsuits. Strict liability is a legal theory that says manufacturers are legally liable for defective products, regardless of whether the manufacturer intended the defect or took reasonable care to avoid it.
    For that reason, lawsuits based on strict liability are the easiest type to win.
  • Negligence, which means failure to act with a reasonable degree of care. If your lawsuit is based on negligence, just showing that a product is defective is not enough. You must also prove that the manufacturer was unreasonably careless in making and selling that product.
  • Breach of warranty. Many manufacturers offer explicit written warranties for their products, which are promises that the product will meet specified standards. In addition, some states have laws mandating an implicit (unspoken) warranty of fitness for all products sold in that state. If your product is covered by one of these, and you believe it has a flaw that contradicts the warranty, you have a defective product case.

 

“WHO IS LEGALLY LIABLE FOR A PRODUCT’S DEFECTS?”

In brief, the person or organization that introduced the defect is legally liable for the defect. In practice, that’s usually the manufacturer -- but not always. Anyone in the “chain of commerce” between the original manufacturer and the store where you buy a product may be liable for the product’s defects. This can include:

  • Manufacturers and farmers.
  • Wholesalers.
  • Distributors.
  • Processors.
  • Retailers.
  • Subcontractors.
  • Resellers (in some states).
  • Rental companies (if they fail to maintain rental equipment properly).
  • Individuals, in some cases.
  • Companies that acquired or merged with a liable company.

If you bought a defective product used, the reseller may or may not be liable. This depends on your state, whether there was a written or implicit warranty, and whether the reseller is normally engaged in retail business.

 

“IF A PRODUCT I OWN IS RECALLED BECAUSE OF DEFECTS, DO I AUTOMATICALLY HAVE A CASE?”

A recall does not necessarily mean you have a case. In order to file a defective product case, you need to be able to prove that you were injured by the product. The injury doesn’t have to be physical -- it can be financial, emotional or a less tangible quality-of-life injury, such as the loss of a parent.

A recent example could be the lawsuits over defective, poisonous pet foods. In those cases, pet owners were not physically injured -- their pets got sick and died. Because animals are usually considered property under the law, rather than family members, pet owners suing over these cases had to claim property damage, as well as financial damages for costs like veterinarian bills. Because some of these claims were quite small, but all were similar, many of these pet owners joined forces in a class-action lawsuit.

 

“DO I NEED A WARRANTY TO SUE OVER A DEFECTIVE PRODUCT?”

You do not need a written warranty, or even an implicit one, to file a defective product lawsuit. Every state has laws making manufacturers legally liable for product defects under strict liability, negligence or both. You also do not need to be the first owner, or to have bought the product recently, or even to be the owner at all. Under the law, all you must show are that the product is defective, and that the defect injured you.

However, you must make sure you file your lawsuit before the statute of limitations -- a time limit on when you can sue -- runs out. That’s generally between one and four years from the injury, depending on your state and some of the circumstances. If you plan to sue a government agency, it may be a matter of months. If you’re concerned about the statute of limitations on your claim, talk to a defective products lawyer as soon as possible.

 

PAYMENT

Defective products lawyers almost always work on contingency. This is a fee arrangement that allows defective products lawyers to represent people who cannot afford to pay high hourly rates for legal services. Instead, the client and the lawyer sign a contract that allows the defective products lawyer to take a percentage of the client’s winnings -- usually between 15% and 40% of the financial verdict or settlement. If they lose the lawsuit, the defective products lawyer does not get paid.

However, some defective products lawyers will ask their clients for court fees, payment for administrative assistance and other related costs. Your defective products lawyer should make this clear right away, at an initial consultation. That meeting -- at which you learn about one another and decide if you should work together -- is usually offered for free as well.