Product Liability: What You Need to Know

Patrick C. Barry

Makers and sellers of consumer products come in all shapes and sizes. Some are major manufacturing corporations that have well-known “household” names. Others are small businesses, often privately-held, and difficult to identify. Still others may be foreign companies exporting products into this country. When someone is hurt due to a product defect or malfunction, where do you start? How do you even begin to untangle the modern manufacturing and distribution chain to find the original source of a dangerous product? Here are some key facts about “product liability” law.

Fortunately, the American legal system, through many aspects of product liability law, recognizes that liability might extend to a number of different companies involved in the sale of a defective product. Liability in such cases often extends from the original manufacturer right down the chain to the ultimate retail seller. This means that even if the original manufacturer is hard or impossible to identify, other companies involved in the marketing and sale of the product may be liable for an injury. This can include the end-of-the-line retailer, such as a “big box store” where a consumer bought an item on a weekend afternoon. An older legal term, still applicable in some instances today, refers to placing or moving a product in “the stream of commerce.” Liability for a defective product might, under certain circumstances, apply to any seller of that product in the stream.

Yet, even when a responsible party can be found, the challenges remain daunting. There are a number of separate and distinct legal claims that might be pursued.

  • “Strict liability” allows a legal claim without showing negligence or actual knowledge of the defect. This often occurs when a particular unit of an otherwise safe product leaves the factory with a defect.
  • “Failure to warn” claims, on the other hand, focus on the company’s knowledge of a design defect and failure to alert consumers.
  • A “breach of warranty” claim may need to be considered in some instances. For example, when a product does not satisfy what a reasonable consumer would expect it to do without causing an injury, an implied warranty may have been breached.

Beyond the legal claims, several other hurdles remain. An injured person’s own conduct will be closely scrutinized. Did they use the product correctly? Did they have the appropriate age, experience and wisdom to use it at all?

In addition, product liability claims are difficult and time-consuming to pursue. The trial lawyers at Decof, Barry, Mega & Quinn, P.C. often handle such legal cases. We also use “contingent fee” arrangements, so you don’t pay any fee unless we are successful on your behalf. If you or a loved one has been hurt by what you believe is a defective product, we can provide experienced and skilled advice and representation about your options.