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Product Liability


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Product liability is the legal responsibility of manufacturers and sellers to buyers, users and bystanders for damages or injuries suffered because of defects in goods. Product liability can occur at any point along the chain of production and distribution. In turn, the manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer all may be held responsible for injury caused by a product.

Injury-Causing Defects

In any jurisdiction, a person must prove a product is defective. Three types of product defects incur liability in manufacturers and suppliers.

  • Design: A flaw in a product’s design makes the product inherently dangerous. The flaw must have existed before the product was manufactured.
  • Manufacturing: A flaw in the manufacturing process causes the product to be defective. Only a few out of many products of the same type are flawed.
  • Marketing: A product lacks appropriate warnings or instructions for proper use.

Types of Product Liability Cases

Strict liability: A plaintiff is allowed to fully recover from an injury caused by a product without having to prove any misconduct by the defendant. The plaintiff must prove only that the injury was caused by a defective product manufactured or sold by the defendant. This is the most common product liability case.

Breach of warranty: The defendant negligently failed to warn the plaintiff about the dangers of the product. Types of breach of warranty include:

  • Breach of seller’s express warranty.
  • Breach of implied warranty.
  • Breach of warranty of fitness of a product for a particular use. The defendant must have known the intended use of the product by the buyer, who relied on the defendant’s knowledge of the product and the defendant’s display of the product used safely in the manner intended by the buyer.

Negligence: The plaintiff must establish:

  • A relationship between the manufacturer and the plaintiff and that the manufacturer owed the plaintiff a duty of care
  • A breach of the duty of care
  • A relationship causing injury to the plaintiff

It is more difficult for a plaintiff to recover under a theory of negligence.

Last update: Sept. 25, 2008

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