Products Liablity Legal Information
 

OVERVIEW

Products liability lawyers specialize in defending the rights of people who have been seriously injured by a defective consumer product, food or service. These injured people can hire a products liability lawyer to sue the manufacturer and others involved in making, distributing and selling the defective product. If the products liability lawyer can prove the case, the clients can secure money to help them pay medical bills, support themselves while they can’t work, and deal with other aspects of the injury caused by the defective product.

Products liability lawsuits are a type of personal injury lawsuit, because they compensate consumers for injuries caused by others. But a products liability lawsuit is easier to prove, because the law in most states considers it a “strict liability” offense. That means that you do not have to show that the defendant -- the person or business you’re suing -- was careless (negligent) in a way that caused your injury. Under strict liability, you must show only that the defective product caused your injury. This law helps to ensure that companies take care not to make and sell products they know are defective.

 

“WHAT TYPES OF PRODUCTS DOES PRODUCTS LIABILITY LAW APPLY TO?”

Most of us think of products as physical objects that we can touch and see. But under products liability law, products can be food, gases, animals, writing and even some services. Products that commonly cause a products liability lawsuit include:

  • Toys and children’s products.
  • Automobiles and auto parts.
  • Medications.
  • Food that caused food poisoning (from restaurants or grocers).
  • Medical devices.

You can sue the seller and distributor of the product as well, if you can show that they were partly responsible for the defect. Generally, however, you can’t use products liability law to sue individuals who are not in the business of regularly selling or renting. For example, if you buy something at a garage sale and it turns out to be defective, you may not be able to sue the person who sold it to you.

 

“WHAT COUNTS AS A DEFECT UNDER THE LAW?”

Products liability law recognizes three types of product defect:

  1. Design defects are flaws that were built into the product because it was designed incorrectly in the first place. If a product is defective by design, all copies of the product will have the same problems. An SUV with an unsafely high center of gravity might be defective by design.
  2. Manufacturing defects are introduced when the product is made. In this case, the factory or person who made the product didn’t do it correctly or introduced a new problem. A food that was contaminated during the bottling process has a manufacturing defect.
  3. Warning defects are flaws in the way the company packages and sells the product. The most common is a failure to warn consumers of a danger involved in using the product -- for example, that a hair dryer could electrocute you if you drop it in the bathtub. Improper instructions could also be considered a marketing defect.

 

“WHAT DO I HAVE TO PROVE IN A PRODUCTS LIABILITY LAWSUIT?”

The first thing that you and your products liability lawyer have to prove is that you were injured by the product. The injury is often physical, but it doesn’t have to be. Many people filing products liability lawsuits claim more than one type of injury, including past and future:

  • Physical injuries.
  • Permanent disabilities or scarring.
  • Wrongful death.
  • Financial injuries -- money you spent as a result of the defective product.
  • Temporary or permanent loss of an income.
  • Emotional injuries, like pain and suffering.
  • Loss of a loved one’s care, love and companionship.

Then you must show that the product was defective in some way. A product is defective if it is unreasonably dangerous when used as intended. With design defects, you could show the court that there was an alternative design that would have made the product safer. With a warning defect, you might prove that there was a reasonably foreseeable risk of harm when using the product as intended (or for an off-label use that was reasonably foreseeable). Warnings must be clear and specific.

No matter what defect you and your products liability lawyer are trying to prove, you will probably have to show that you were using the product correctly and in an intended or foreseeable manner, you did not alter the product substantially before using it, and you followed any warnings provided. This helps prove that you did not cause your own injuries, a common defense used in products liability lawsuits.

 

“WHAT IF I BOUGHT THE PRODUCT A LONG TIME AGO, OR USED?”

In both of those cases, you are still entitled to file a products liability lawsuit against the manufacturer. You do not need to be the original owner, or the owner at all; you just need to show that you were harmed by a defect in the product. You don’t need a manufacturer’s warranty, because most products sold in the United States have an implied (unspoken) warranty of fitness. However, products liability law will not compensate you for ordinary wear and tear on a product.

 

“HOW LONG DO I HAVE TO CONSIDER FILING A PRODUCT LIABILITY LAWSUIT?”

Every state has a law called a statute of limitations, which sets a deadline by which you must file your lawsuit. In general, statutes of limitations vary between one and four years. However, there are many exceptions. If the plaintiff was a minor at the time of the injury, the statute of limitations may not start until he or she turns 18. If the defendant is a government agency, the statute of limitations can be shorter. And in many cases, the statute of limitations doesn’t start running until you discover the injury. This can be important when the injury isn’t immediately obvious.

 

“WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I AM INJURED BY A DEFECTIVE PRODUCT?”

Of course, the first thing anyone should do after an injury is seek medical help. But once things calm down, there are a few things you can do to preserve evidence and protect your rights in case you decide to file a products liability lawsuit later. Start by saving:

  • The product itself, and any packaging or manuals that came with it. Label it clearly so your family knows it’s not safe, then put it out of the way. If it’s fresh food, you may have to freeze it or take it to an expert for testing.
  • Any receipts, prescriptions or other paperwork showing when and how you purchased the product.
  • All medical records and other documents showing how the defective product affected you and your family. Include any costs that you incurred because of the defective product, like a baby-sitter that you had to hire because you were too sick to take care of your children.
  • Any pictures of your injuries and the damage to your property caused by the product.
  • Statements from any witnesses, as well as their names and contact information.
  • Your own memories of the accident. Write down what you remember while it’s fresh, and add any new thoughts or medical problems that develop.

You should also be very careful if the manufacturer of the product contacts you directly. Sometimes, companies that know they’re legally liable for your injuries will try to stop you from suing by offering you money right away. Do not take this money unless you are sure it compensates you for all of your losses -- physical, financial and emotional. If you’re not sure, politely decline and call a products liability lawyer for help deciding what your claim is worth.

 

PAYMENT

Products liability lawyers almost always work on contingency. In a contingency system, the lawyer doesn’t ask to be paid in advance; he or she expects to be paid by taking a percentage of your winnings. That percentage should be agreed on in advance by you and your products liability lawyer. If you don’t win, the products liability lawyer does not get paid. This system allows people of modest or ordinary incomes, who usually cannot afford a high hourly fee, to hire a lawyer. You may still be asked to pay court fees and for the time of the lawyer’s support staff, but almost all products liability lawyers offer free initial consultations.