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How Is Fault Determined in a Product Liability Case?

Patrick C. Barry

Malfunctioning airbags. Exploding cell phones. Toxic ingredients in our food. News stories are replete with examples of consumer products not fit for their stated purpose. Americans are needlessly exposed to dangers from such items on a regular basis. Did you know that companies that make or sell defective products and goods may be liable for injuries caused by a defective product? This area of law is generally called “product liability,” and there is a well-developed legal framework addressing such claims. The rules are complex and the claims often difficult to prove, but the attorneys at Decof, Barry, Mega & Quinn, P.C. regularly handle such matters.

While there are multiple legal theories that impact product liability cases, such as “strict liability,” “breach of warranty” and “failure to warn,” they all share some common elements. First, a plaintiff must prove that the product, either in its design, manufacture or final form, is defective in a way that makes it “unreasonably dangerous.” Many products – such as basic power tools – can be dangerous, but in most instances only an “unreasonably dangerous” product can result in a legal claim.

In addition, a plaintiff generally also needs to establish “notice” of the defect, meaning that the manufacturer or seller is aware that the product has such a defect. A one-time “freak” occurrence may not result in liability. Past customer complaints of the same problem, for example, may establish that the company knew about the defect, but failed to act.

Also, a plaintiff in a product liability case sometimes needs to establish that a “feasible alternative design” exists. For instance, the current rash of dangerously malfunctioning airbags may be due to the use of certain components within the airbag system by a single manufacturer. Other companies use different components, which result in safe operation of their airbag systems. Thus, a feasible alternative design – one using the other internal components used by other companies – exists, as shown by the safe operation of those other airbags.

These are challenging claims, however, especially when brought against major national or international manufacturers. The companies often have legions of defense lawyers working to defeat claims. Good trial lawyers with extensive experience, skill and persistence are required to fight back. If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of a product you think might be defective, please contact the trial lawyers at Decof, Barry, Mega & Quinn, P.C. We can help.