Unfortunately, products that are flawed and hazardous do make their way to the consumer. A design defect is just one of three types of product defects that can incur liability. Others include:
- Design defects. Design defects are inherent; they exist before the product is manufactured. Although the item might function well, it can be unreasonably dangerous to use because of a design flaw. These defects occur in all products of the line.
- Manufacturing defects. These defects occur during the construction or production of the product and generally one or more units, not the entire line.
- Defects in marketing. These defects can include improper product instructions or failures to warn consumers of potential dangers in the product.
This discussion focuses on design defects as a basis for a products liability claim if a person was injured or their loved one died as a result of using a consumer product.
What is a Design Defect?
A design defect means that something inherent in the product’s design makes it unreasonably dangerous to the user. The defect generally affects the entire product line, rather than just one unit. It is not the result of a manufacturing error, as the defect occurred in the design stage. A design defect case is usually brought only against the company responsible for designing the product, not the manufacturer or seller.
Examples of Design Defects
Examples of design defects include the following:
- An improperly designed safety guard on a power tool that does not prevent injuries
- Structurally unstable products, such as a chest of drawers or table that can topple over
- A piece of clothing that is unduly flammable or an electric appliance that melts when turned on the high setting
- Products that are unusually dangerous for children, such as toys that include choking hazards
- Products that do not adequately contain toxic or dangerous liquids or substances, such as improper lids on poisons
- Mechanical defects in the design of cars and other vehicles, such as cars that flip over during sharp turns because they are top-heavy
- An electric razor that causes electrical shock when turned on
Some design defects can be remedied by warning labels regarding product usage but can still cause injury. Design defects are also not limited to causing danger. Some defects limit the customer’s usage or enjoyment of the product, such as a poorly designed electronic device that produces so much glare as to be rendered unusable. For a design defect claim, it Is important to note that the defective design must cause the injury. For example, a person who is injured by a power tool must prove that the improperly designed safety guard enabled the injury, not the user’s improper use of the product.
Who can Be Held Liable in a Design Defect Claim?
In a design defect case, specifically, the company that designed the product is normally the only entity that is held liable. In manufacturing or marketing defect cases, anyone involved in the manufacture, assembly, and distribution of goods can be held liable. Overall, products liability claims can be based on negligence, strict liability, or breach of warranty of fitness.
- Negligence: This is defined as failure to behave with care that someone of ordinary prudence would have behaved in the same circumstances. It can also include omissions when there is some duty to act, such as ensuring user safety. Negligence alleges that the company knew or should have known the consumer risks associated with its product design.
- Strict liability: This means manufacturers can be held liable for a products liability claim regardless of their efforts to make the product safe. The plaintiff does not have to prove negligence or fault but will often try to prove that the product’s risks outweigh the benefits. A case based on strict liability will focus on the product itself and not the actions of the company that designed it.
- Breach of warranty of fitness: This claim is generally brought against sellers of a product who express or imply that a product can be used in a certain way. An example is a sporting goods store that sells a bicycle they claim can be used off-road. The buyer is hurt when the bicycle breaks while riding on mountain terrain.
What Must the Plaintiff Prove in a Design Defect Claim?
Liability is generally proven when the plaintiff can show that the product posed a known or foreseeable risk to consumers who used it for the intended purpose or that the product’s risks outweigh the benefits. For example, if a power tool with a guard to prevent hand injury is too flimsy to adequately protect a user’s hand, it could be argued that the tool designer should have foreseen this risk or perhaps even knew about the risk.
Consumers must also prove that the product itself caused injuries. Pennsylvania courts will apply one of two standards to determine if a defectively designed product caused a plaintiff’s injuries:
- Consumer expectations’ standard. A court will determine whether a reasonable consumer would expect the danger posed by the product. For example, most people would know that touching parts inside an electrical appliance could harm them, but they would not expect the device to shock them simply by them turning it on.
- Risk-utility standard. A court will seek to answer whether the risks of using the current product are higher than the costs of an alternative design. For example, a court may decide that changing the design of a car component that catches fire in a certain type of accident is more costly than an alternative design because people should not be driving in such a way as to be involved in this type of accident. The alternative design theory requires the plaintiff to show that it was possible from both an economical and practical standpoint for the manufacturer to adopt an alternative design that did not oppose the product’s original function. The cost of adopting an alternative design must be less than the costs of claimants’ medical bills.
To summarize, a plaintiff in a defective design case must prove the following:
- The manufacturer designed the product as intended.
- The product’s design is dangerous for its intended use.
- An alternative design would make the product much safer.
- The alternative design or design modification would enable the product to perform just as well or in the same manner for which it was intended.
- The cost of making the safer design was not cost-prohibitive.
- The plaintiff was using the product as it was intended.
- The plaintiff suffered injury or loss when using the product as it was intended.
How can a Products Liability Lawyer Help?
Design defect lawsuits are complex and require a lot of time, evidence, attention to detail, and expert testimony. An experienced lawyer can help in these areas:
- Determine the basis of a claim
- Build a strong case using a variety of resources
- Collect evidence from all parties concerned
- Find and retain the service of experts in various fields related to the product design and use
- Manage documents and timelines
- Negotiate for settlement with designers and insurance companies
- Prepare all parties for courtroom appearances
- Calculate the current and future losses of the victim of a defective product
- Represent the victim in court so the victim can focus on healing
- Ensure that all timelines and deadlines are followed
Philadelphia Products Liability Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC Help Consumers Injured by Defective Products
If you have been injured by a consumer product or a loved one has been killed by a defective product, contact the Philadelphia products liability lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC. Design defect lawsuits are complex, and a qualified lawyer can help you navigate the legal system successfully. For a free consultation, call us at 215-569-8488 or contact us online. From our offices in Philadelphia, Abington, and Media, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; and Haddonfield, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout the surrounding areas.