Consumers trust that the goods they purchase are safe to use. They rightly assume products sold to the public have been designed and assembled in ways that make them safe. Yet, every year in the United States, thousands of foods, toys, electronics, and other products are recalled because they are hazardous to the public. Under the law, companies that make, market, and sell unsafe products can be held responsible when people get hurt. It is important to explore what it means to bring a products liability claim for a defective product, and the damages that are available.
What is a Products Liability Claim?
Products liability refers to a manufacturer or seller being held responsible for allowing a dangerous product to get into the hands of consumers. Anything sold to the public is expected to meet a certain standard of safety. That standard is ensured through good quality research, design, assembly, manufacturing, and marketing. Any misstep in the supply chain can result in a flawed and dangerous product.
How can a Defective Product Harm a Consumer?
When it comes to defective products, the following instances can happen to consumers:
- Spoiled food and drinks can cause foodborne illnesses, such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria.
- Prescription and over-the-counter medications can have dangerous side effects or interactions with other substances.
- Medical devices may not work as intended, causing more harm than good.
- Exposure to some materials, like talc and asbestos, can result in cancer and other chronic illnesses.
- Toys and electronics can malfunction causing physical injuries, including cuts, burns, and broken bones.
What are the Different Types of Product Defects?
Products liability lawyers approach each case differently, depending upon the types of defects involved. Defective products are classified in three ways:
Design Defects: In some cases, the product’s basic design is flawed and that flaw makes it dangerous in some way. In that case, every single item manufactured according to that design will pose a risk to the user. From start to finish, every consumer product must go through many different channels, and a dangerous flaw would likely be caught and remedied before it reached the public.
Manufacturing Defects: If the design is sound but something goes wrong during the assembly process, the problem is considered a manufacturing defect. Manufacturing defects generally impact a portion of the overall items produced. Despite quality controls, on occasion, something goes wrong and items that are assembled incorrectly go unseen.
Marketing Defects: After a product is designed and manufactured, the maker or seller instructs the public on how to use it correctly and safely. A marketing defect means someone in the supply chain mislabeled the product, failed to warn of any risks, and neglected to provide instructions.
Strategies for Proving Claims for Unsafe Products
Products liability cases are brought under the following theories:
- Breach of Warranty: The product does not meet the terms of an express or implied warranty.
- Fraud: A defendant made untrue claims about a product the consumer believed and trusted to be true.
- Negligence: The defendant breached their duty to ensure a product sold to the public was safe.
- Strict Liability: The plaintiff used a product they believed to be safe as intended by the manufacturer and was harmed.
Strict liability is most frequently applied in products liability cases for a few reasons. It is easier to meet the burden of proof in strict liability cases. Unlike cases that only allow for economic damages, plaintiffs can sue for damages for physical and emotional pain and suffering in a strict liability case.
Products Liability Laws in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, there is a statute of limitations of two years. After that time, an injured person is prohibited from ever filing a claim in the future; however there are exceptions. Sometimes, defects related to land and property improvements do not show up until many years after purchase. The consumer may not become aware of something, such as faulty electrical work or plumbing, until well after the equipment was initially installed. A statute of repose bars someone from pursing legal action after a certain amount of time has passed.
Unlike a statute of limitations that begins when a consumer is injured, a statute of repose is based on a deadline or an event that did not cause harm. Fraudulent concealment refers to a product defect that goes undiscovered at the time of the initial injury. The two-year timeframe to file a claim would not start until the time the injured party discovered the defect.
What are the Elements of a Products Liability Claim?
Certain elements must exist for a products liability claim to be successful, including:
- The plaintiff was hurt or suffered loss of some sort.
- The product in question is proven to be defective or unsafe.
- That defect caused the plaintiff’s injury or illness.
- The plaintiff used the product as intended at the time the injury occurred.
Damages may include the following:
- Disability costs
- Lost income
- Medical bills
- Property damage
- Loss of consortium or companionship
- Pain and suffering
- Permanent disfigurement
- Financial award to penalize an individual or organization
In Pennsylvania, there is a modified comparative fault standard, if the injured party is found to be more than 50 percent at-fault for their injuries, they will not recover damages.
What Should I Do After I am Hurt by a Defective Product?
When a consumer is hurt by medication, toys, an appliance, or any other dangerous product, the priority is to seek medical help. Once they are stable, it is a good idea to notify the store, website, or manufacturer of the incident in writing. This can help to prevent anyone else from getting hurt.
The next step is to contact a lawyer who can evaluate the case to determine who is likely responsible for the defects that led to the client’s injuries. Any information about the purchase of a defective product is helpful for the claim, such as instructions, receipts, and medical bills.
Some companies will propose a settlement, which the plaintiff can choose to accept or reject. If the settlement is not sufficient considering how serious the injuries were and how significantly they impacted the person’s life, then a lawyer may recommend going to trial.
Several resources are available to inform consumers of current recalls. The United States Product Safety Commission maintains an extensive online database that includes images of the recalled item, the manufacturer’s remedy, and more information for consumers. For unsafe products that are regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), visit the FDA recall website. Consumers can find detailed information on human and pet foods, medications, and medical devices.
The federal government also hosts an even more extensive online catalog of product recalls from other agencies, including the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Users can sign up to receive email alerts when a new product is deemed unsafe for the public.
In the United States, anyone involved in the design, creation, sales, and marketing of consumer products is accountable when the products are defective. Pursuing a lawsuit is not easy when a consumer goes up against an enormous company. For this reason, it is essential to hire an experienced lawyer. Anyone curious about whether they have a valid claim should inquire about their legal options after an injury occurs.
Philadelphia Products Liability Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC Help Injured Consumers
Our Philadelphia products liability lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC advocate for consumers injured by dangerous products. We are not afraid to go up against powerful companies. For a free consultation, contact us online or call us at 215-569-8488. Located in Philadelphia, Abington, and Media, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; and Haddonfield, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout the surrounding areas.