The law of product liability is the area of law that deals with the liability of the manufacturer, wholesaler or retailer of a product for injuries resulting from that product. This includes the manufacturer of component parts of the product, an assembling manufacturer, the wholesaler, the retail store or other ultimate seller of the product, and any other party in the distributive chain, regardless of whether you actually purchased the item yourself.
Example: You borrow an electrical cord with a design defect from a friend. The cord's wires cannot carry the electrical load it indicates that it can. The result is an electrical fire that burns down your house. You can file a product liability lawsuit against the maker of the electrical cord, its distributor, its wholesaler, and the retail store where it was originally purchased by your friend.
Research from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission indicates that defective or unsafe products cause 29.4 million injuries and 21,400 deaths each year. You or your child may be injured by something seemingly harmless or something you use everyday, such as a hair dryer, toaster, baby chair, toy, iron, coffee maker, air conditioner, car, hand tool or even your clothing. Product liability law gives consumers the ability to sue for and recover damages from manufacturers, distributors and vendors for injuries resulting from accidents caused by products. Virtually all products are subject to products liability law, not just items on the store shelves - products subject to the law run the spectrum from food, drugs, appliances, automobiles, medical devices, medical implants, blood, tobacco, gases, real estate, writings, maps, and even commercial jets.
Products liability claims are tort-based claims that can arise from negligence, strict liability, or breach of warranty, though products liability is often focused on strict liability claims.
Strict liability is the term used to describe situations in which a person can be held liable for damages caused to another person even without negligence or other fault. Strict liability means "liability without fault," therefore a person is liable whether or not they were negligent and whether or not they intended to do any harm. The law imposes strict liability on inherently or abnormally dangerous activities, or activities that are likely to cause particular kinds of harm. A typical example of this type of activity is the use of explosives - if injury results from the use of explosives, regardless of the purpose for which they are used and the care exercised, the operator of the explosives is liable to those damaged by their use.
Strict liability is also often imposed on manufactured products, under the law of product liability. Strict liability claims do not involve proof of whether or not someone acted reasonably or used appropriate care in manufacturing a certain product. Translated to products liability terms, a defendant in a product liability claim will be found liable for damages to a plaintiff if it is found that the product is defective, regardless of whether the manufacturer or supplier exercised great care when designing and manufacturing it. As such, a plaintiff does not have to demonstrate that the manufacturer or vendor was negligent or careless, only that:
- a defect in the product caused the accident
- he or she was using the product in a manner consistent with the way it was meant to be used
- the product was not substantially changed between the time it left the seller or manufacturer's hands and the time it reached the plaintiff