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What is Strict Products Liability?  

product liability

Strict liability is a legal doctrine that holds a person or company responsible for their actions for products that cause damage, regardless of their fault or negligence. The term is often used interchangeably with products liability, but they are not the same. There are multiple types of products liability. The most common form is strict products liability. It holds a manufacturer, distributer, or another party liable for damage or injury without the need to prove negligence.

Strict liability can apply when someone is involved in unreasonably dangerous activities that are not commonly performed and create a foreseeable and highly significant risk of physical harm, despite practicing reasonable care. This is a relatively high standard to meet, and few situations satisfy the required elements. Even sky diving is not generally accepted by courts as an activity where strict liability should be applied. Strict liability can also apply in cases where someone is injured by another person’s animal, such as a dog bite.

What are the Three Kinds of Strict Products Liability?

When strict liability applies to products, the manufacturer is not the only entity that can be held strictly liable for damages. The distributors can also be held liable to those injured by the product. Strict liability imposes liability even if the sellers did everything within their power to make sure the defect did not occur. In order for strict liability to occur, the product must have a defect, and that defect caused the injury.

The idea behind strict products liability cases is to protect consumers who are injured without putting the burden on them to find out where and how a product defect came about. The consumer has little or no access to details of product design, manufacture, and distribution that occurred before they used the product. Putting the burden on the injured party to identify flaws or defects before they ever owned or used the product would prevent them from being able to bring a successful case to recover damages.

The strict products liability rule serves as an incentive for sellers to provide safe products. It prevents sellers of defective products from simply keeping all profits from the sales of defective products. It also creates a more reasonable path forward for consumers. Strict liability law reflects an effort to place the burden of proof more equitably on sellers who can absorb costs for payouts from profits made on sales.

Proof of a Product Defect is Required

Successful cases establish liability by showing the plaintiff was injured by a defective product. There are three types of product defects subject to strict liability: design defects, manufacturing defects, and defects in warnings or instructions. The plaintiff must be able to show the product was unreasonably unsafe as designed, manufactured, or sold. A product can be defective in more than one way.

Defects in design will apply to all products made using a particular design.  Pennsylvania evaluates design defects under one of two different standards:

  • Consumer Expectation Standard: Measures whether a product is more or less dangerous than the reasonable consumer might expect.
  • Risk-Utility Standard: Determines whether the injury from using the product is serious enough to outweigh the burden of taking precautions needed to prevent injury.

Other states may vary from these standards. It is highly recommended to discuss a products liability case with an experienced lawyer.

Defects in manufacturing involve the manufacturer of a product with a safe design erring in making the product. This defect is often associated with certain batches of a product rather than the entire product line. An example would be if a batch of drugs is contaminated with another substance or toxic material.

The third product defect that can be subject to strict liability is a flaw in warnings or instructions. Consumers are entitled to be warned about potential dangers associated with the use of a product. However, it can be somewhat of a judgement call to decide when these are so flawed that they are considered defective. Some examples of defective warnings include:

  • Incomplete warnings that do not disclose all known dangers from using a product.
  • Inadequate instructions that contain mistakes or omissions that endanger users.
  • Ineffective labeling where the warning label is not readily visible or accessible.

A plaintiff must prove that the product was defective and that they were injured by the product to prevail in a strict products liability case. There are issues that could interfere with an injured person’s ability to recover damages for defective products. These include time limits for filing a claim and defenses raised by sellers.

Statute of Limitations Restrictions

A plaintiff must file a lawsuit for a products liability case within the applicable statute of limitations. While states differ, in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of injury. There are some limited exceptions. It is important to get the advice of an experienced products liability lawyer as soon as possible after the injury to ensure the timely filing of a claim. Failing to meet the statute of limitations can forever bar a plaintiff from seeking relief.

Fraudulent concealment is when a defendant knows about the defect but intentionally conceals it from the plaintiff. When that happens, the statute of limitations does not begin until a reasonable person would have discovered the defect.

Limits on Recovery

Some states will not award damages to a plaintiff if they bore responsibility for the injury. Pennsylvania limits recovery under a modified comparative fault standard. The court must consider how much the plaintiff is responsible for their injury. If the plaintiff is found to be more than 50 percent responsible for the injury, then the court will deny the plaintiff a monetary award. Most states follow this standard.

What are the Defenses of Sellers?

Sellers of products can raise certain defenses to products liability claims, including substantial change and assumption of risk. A seller is only responsible for defects that exist at the time the product leaves its control. If someone using a product alters it and then gets injured, then the alteration may have been the cause of the injury and not the product. In this case, a seller may be able to raise a substantial change defense.

In assumption of risk, a seller is allowed to provide evidence that the injured consumer knew of a defect that was dangerous, and despite appreciating the risk, the consumer chose to use the product and expose themselves to the danger. If the seller’s evidence is persuasive, then the assumption of risk defense can successfully overcome a case for strict products liability.

Products liability claims can also be made based on negligence, breach of warranty, or misrepresentation of facts. These cases do require evidence of the defendant’s fault, negligence, or intent to do harm. Which approach to take in seeking damages in a products liability case will be driven by the facts surrounding the case, the specific laws of the state, and strategic decisions made by an experienced products liability lawyer.

Philadelphia Products Liability Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC Build Cases for Injured Consumers

Strict products liability cases involve a careful analysis of the product, how it is intended to be used, and conditions under which the product was used.  The experienced Philadelphia products liability lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC can review the circumstances of your injury and let you know whether a strict products liability case is the best way to proceed. With offices located in Philadelphia, Abington, and Media, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; and Haddonfield, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout the surrounding areas. Call us at 215-569-8488 or complete our online form to schedule a free consultation.