As consumers, we operate under the assumption that the products we purchase are safe from defects that could harm us. Most of the time, that assumption is correct; however, sometimes a defective product makes it into the marketplace. When that happens, a victim can suffer serious – even fatal – injuries. When a defective product causes harm, the injured victim, or the survivors in the case of a fatal injury, may be entitled to compensation through a product liability lawsuit.
Product Liability Basics
A product liability claim arises when someone is injured by a defective or dangerous product that managed to make it into the marketplace. For a defective product to be the basis of a product liability lawsuit the product must be both defective and cause harm.
Types of Product Defects
Despite efforts by the government to regulate the safety of all products manufactured in the United States, or entering the U.S. from other countries, far too many defective products end up in the hands of consumers each year. The law classifies product defects into three categories:
- Design defects – refers to a defect that is present because it is part of the intended design of the product. When a design defect is present, all the products manufactured with that design will be defective. An example of a design defect might include a brake pad that works as intended unless the vehicle is exposed to extremely hot temperatures, at which point one of the components in the pad weakens, causing the brake pad to fail.
- Manufacturing defects – a manufacturing defect is a defect that is introduced into the product at some point during the manufacturing phase. With this defect, the product would be safe as designed, but for the defect introduced during the manufacture of the product. Therefore, with a manufacturing defect, it is likely that only some products are defective. An example of a manufacturing defect would be a brake pad that is safely designed; however, on a specific day during the manufacturing of the pads the wrong materials are used at one of the factories. The material used on that day is a weaker material than the design calls for, causing the brake pads made that day to fail after a very short period of use.
- Failure to warn – there are some products that simply cannot be made safe because of the nature of the product itself. For these products, a proper warning is required by law, warning consumers of the dangerous nature of the product. When a proper warning is not included, it is referred to as a “failure to warn”. An example of a failure to warn would be if a manufacturer failed to include warnings on a bottle of antifreeze that cautioned consumers about the toxic nature of the product.
Who Is Responsible When a Product Is Defective?
When a consumer is injured by a defective product, anyone in the “chain of distribution” could potentially be held liable for the victim’s injuries. The chain of distribution could include:
- Product designer
- Product manufacturer
- A manufacturer of component parts
- A party who assembled or installed the product
- The wholesaler
- The retailer
What Type of Compensation Is Available in a Product Liability Lawsuit?
The type and extent of any compensation to which a victim may be entitled can vary somewhat from state to state. Typically, the victim of a defective product injury is potentially entitled to compensatory damages in the form of economic and noneconomic damages. Economic damages refer to the out of pocket expenses a victim incurs, such as medical bills, repairs to property, and lost wages. Non-economic damages are what most people refer to as “pain and suffering.” If the defendant’s conduct was particularly egregious or malicious a victim might also be entitled to punitive damages. Unlike compensatory damages that “compensate” a victim for actual loss, punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant.
What Should You Do If You Think You Were Injured by a Defective Product?
If you believe you were injured by a defective product, the following steps will help you protect yourself and your legal rights:
- Secure the product. When possible, secure the defective product, as is, in a safe place. Do not make any attempt to repair the product. Often, the product will need to be analyzed by an expert to determine if it was, indeed, defective at the time a victim was allegedly injured. Therefore, it is important to secure it in a safe place in the same condition it was in at the time of your injury.
- Seek medical attention. Submitting to a thorough medical examination in a timely manner is important for two reasons. First, an examination may uncover hidden injuries that could become life threatening without treatment. Second, by having a physician examine you right after the accident that caused your injury you create a clear relationship between the defective product and your injuries.
- Consult with an attorney. Product liability can be a complicated area of the law given the complex nature of many defects and the numerous potential defendants; however, an experienced product liability attorney can help you navigate the legal system.
Why Should You Contact Kirkland, McGhee & Gann?
If you believe you were injured by a defective product, or that you lost a loved one as a result of a defective product, you need solid and reliable legal advice and guidance to help you move forward. The attorneys at Kirkland, McGhee & Gann have experience representing clients in product liability lawsuits and would be honored to help you.
Give us a call to discuss your case and your concerns. We will provide a concise analysis of the strengths and weaknesses we see in your potential case and answer your questions. We understand the legal issues in a product liability case and we are not afraid to litigate those issues in a court of law if necessary.