Every year in the United States, people are injured by different types of products. Products that do not meet the consumer’s reasonable expectations for safety are considered defective or dangerous. Products liability law refers to a specific branch of law concerning liability when consumers are harmed by unsafe goods.
In some personal injury claims, the plaintiff must prove precisely how the defendant acted carelessly to cause their injuries. However, in strict liability cases, a defendant can be at fault even if they never intended to cause harm. It does not matter if the company who made the product, marketed the product, or sold the product could have done anything differently in a strict liability case.
The only thing that matters is that the person was injured by something the defendant did, simply because they made a dangerous product available to the public.
Strict Liability Removes a Roadblock to Justice for Injured Consumers
Strict liability is liability incurred for causing harm to life, limb, or property without the requirement of having to prove negligence or intent to harm. It is an invaluable legal tool because it removes a barrier to justice and helps innocent, injured consumers achieve compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering after a preventable injury.
Although the concept seems simple on the surface, the strict liability rule for products can be complicated. This is what consumers should know about unsafe products and important exceptions to strict liability under the law.
Types of Product Defects
Product defects fall into three categories based on the point in the distribution process where the flaw or defect developed.
- Design defect: This is a problem with the product from the start, a flaw that is inherent in its basic design, making it unsafe.
- Manufacturing defect: This is a problem that develops when the product was assembled or manufactured.
- Marketing defect: This is a problem in the way the product is marketed to the public, issues such as unclear instructions, improper labeling, or missing safety warnings.
Common defective products include toys, vehicles, household products, tools, appliances, medical devices, and even medications.
Example of Liability in Typical Personal Injury Claims
In a typical personal injury claim, the defendant’s conduct is an essential part of the case. Here is an example of how that works:
Let us say that a homeowner knew for several months the handrail on their front steps was loose. When a neighbor stopped by one day to bring something over, they grabbed onto the loose handrail and it gave way, causing them to fall off the steps and break their arm.
It is clear in this situation the homeowner was negligent because they failed to repair the handrail or tell their neighbor it was loose. In a court of law, negligence would be relatively easy to prove here.
Understanding Strict Liability in Action
Compare that scenario to a man who buys a new blender at a local housewares store. When he gets home and plugs the blender into the wall, sparks fly and a small fire breaks out. Fortunately, the man reacts quickly and puts it out with a fire extinguisher, but not before part of the kitchen has been damaged and the man suffers burns to his fingers and hands.
Although he read the manual, followed all the instructions, and tried to use the blender properly, he still got hurt through no fault of this own. It is obvious the appliance is defective and unsafe.
If the man decides to sue for his medical bills and property damage, he and his legal team do not have to analyze how the defect occurred and who is responsible with a strict liability case.
The logic is that if the public were responsible for identifying how, when, and where a product flaw occurred during the product’s transition from design, to assembly, to the marketplace, these cases would be virtually impossible to win.
What the Plaintiff Does Need to Prove in a Strict Liability Case
Although the plaintiff is not required to prove the defendant’s conduct fell short of a certain standard of function and safety, they do need to meet other criteria.
Generally, in a strict liability claim, the plaintiff must show the following:
- The product was unreasonably dangerous or unreasonably unsafe at the time it was either designed, manufactured, or sold.
- The seller anticipated and intended for the product to reach the consumer without any changes.
- The plaintiff was injured by the unsafe or defective product.
Reasons Why Strict Liability Cases Fail
Just because a plaintiff in a strict liability case is not required to prove liability, that does not make the defendant automatically responsible for any injuries caused by a defective product.
There are some scenarios in which the plaintiff or some third party acted in a way that interferes with the product’s safe use. Perhaps the plaintiff used the product in a way for which it was not designed or in some way that is obviously dangerous.
Consumers have a responsibility to use products as instructed and as they are designed to be used. Imagine if someone accidentally puts a metal bowl in the microwave, causing it to overheat and permanently damage the appliance.
That would not be a problem with the product and certainly not grounds for a strict liability case because the consumer did not follow the instructions. They probably should have known that putting metal items in a microwave is dangerous.
Some Products Are Unavoidably Unsafe
When you consider all the products we use in a single day, you can probably think of one or two that are unavoidably unsafe. That means that by design, they cannot be made safer without compromising their function and usefulness. Think of a clothes iron, an electric knife, or a firepit. They all pose an inherent risk of burns or lacerations. That is why we keep them away from children and pets.
Makers and sellers of these types of products have a duty to include proper warnings and instructions so that users are fully informed of the risks and have the information they need to use the products in a safe manner. When users do not follow those instructions and get hurt, they usually would not have grounds for legal action.
Who Should I Sue if I Was Injured by a Dangerous Product?
In strict liability cases, there are a few possible defendants: the product manufacturer, distributer, or retailer. It seems apparent that the manufacturer would most likely be at fault for a consumer product that was defective by design or altered during the production process in a way that impacted its safety.
However, because strict liability cases do not address the conduct of all the parties involved in the supply chain, the companies who distribute and sell these goods can also be held liable. This is how the law enables injured consumers to take legal action without having to identify where in the process something went wrong.
Possible Damages for Pennsylvania Strict Liability Claims
Most jurisdictions allow compensatory and punitive damages in products liability cases. Compensatory damages refer to compensation for what the plaintiff lost from their injury: current and future medical costs, lost income, property damage, pain and suffering, and emotional stress among other types of losses.
Punitive damages refer to compensation to punish the defendant and deter them from putting consumers at risk again.
The best way to learn more about your situation and if you have a legitimate defective product case is to meet with a trusted personal injury lawyer. After reviewing the facts, the lawyer can explain the possible damages you may receive if your case is successful.
Philadelphia Products Liability Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC, Advocate for Clients Injured by Defective Products
If you or someone you care about has been hurt by any type of unsafe product, reach out to the Philadelphia products liability lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC. Clients who are injured through no fault of their own may have grounds for a strict liability claim against company that made or sold a defective item. Call us today at 215-569-4888 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Abington, and Media, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; and Haddonfield, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout the surrounding areas.