In short, product liability is the set of laws that hold a manufacturer or seller of a product accountable for placing a defective product into the stream of commerce. Under product liability laws, any party that is responsible for any part of the manufacture of a defective product can be held liable for any injuries that result from that product’s use. This includes any seller of the defective product.
As an example, in the process of creating a motor vehicle there are often numerous different parties that are involved in the manufacture, distribution, and sale of the vehicle. For example, one manufacturer may create the tires, while another manufacturer creates the engine, etc. All of the individual pieces are then brought together and assembled to make the final product. After the product is made, one party will be in charge of safely distributing the vehicle to a vehicle seller, such as a car retailer or dealer.
If the resulting vehicle that was created is defective, then any of the following parties involved may be held liable for any resulting injuries:
- The assembling manufacturer that assembles the vehicle together;
- The wholesaler for the vehicle;
- The dealer that sells the vehicle to the consumer; and/or
- The manufacturer of the specific piece of equipment that was found to be defective.
Once again, product liability law is a distinct category of law when compared to ordinary personal injury suits. Product liability laws are designed to protect consumers, as well as compensate consumers for their injuries while also serving as a deterrent to manufacturers by punishing those who make or sell unsafe goods. Thus, product liability laws have determined that manufacturers and sellers are to be held to a higher standard than the average defendant in a typical civil lawsuit.
In essence, the manufacturer and seller owes a duty to the consumer to prevent dangerous products from entering the stream of commerce. This heightened standard often makes damage recovery easier for an injured consumer when compared to other civil lawsuits.
What Are The Different Types Of Product Liability Claims?
As there are no federal laws governing products liability cases, most product liability lawsuits are filed in state courts in accordance with that state’s specific product liability laws. However, in order to help encourage as much uniformity within the law as possible, the United States Department of Commerce (“USDC”) published the Model Uniform Products Liability Act in 1979.
Product liability claims are generally based on the legal theories of negligence, breach of warranty, or strict liability. Strict liability is the most commonly used legal theory in defective products cases. A brief description of the three legal theories is outlined below:
- Negligence: In a negligence claim the defendant owes the plaintiff a duty of care to prevent unreasonable risk of harm and injury when using their product. Then, if that duty of care is violated and results in an injury to a user of their product, the violator may be held liable for the resulting damages;
- Strict Liability: Strict liability is similar to negligence, but it removes the intent element. This means that the plaintiff (i.e. the party that was injured) does not need to prove the negligent or reckless behavior of the manufacturer, seller, or wholesaler. Instead, if the product is defective and causes injury, then the liability automatically exists; and
- Breach of Warranty: In legal terms, a warranty is a type of guarantee made by the seller regarding a good or product. A warranty may either be an express warranty or an implied warranty.
- An express warranty is created by an overt statement or action by the seller. For example, if a seller makes an oral or written promise about a product, the product must conform to that specific use;
- An implied warranty is a warranty that is created by law. Implied warranties apply to products regardless of whether the seller makes any sort of statement or promise. The two most common implied warranties are the implied warranty of merchantability, and the implied warranty of fitness for particular use.
What Are The Elements Of a Product Liability Claim?
In order for a consumer that was harmed by a defective product to be successful in their civil lawsuit against the party that harmed them, they must typically prove the following:
- That a product has been sold to them in the stream of commerce;
- That the seller or manufacturer was under an obligation to sell or manufacture the product in such a way to meet the ordinary expectation of average consumers;
- That at the time of sale the product contained a design defect or a manufacturing defect;
- That the defect in the product is what caused the product to be unreasonably dangerous;
- That the defect was foreseeable (i.e. predictable), and that an average consumer could have been injured by the defect; and
- That injury caused an average consumer to sustain quantifiable damages.
A design defect is a defect in the way a product is initially designed to work. The defect in the design renders the product as inherently unsafe to the consumers that the product is sold to. Design defects exist when the designer was planning the item, but before the product is actually manufactured. For example, a child car seat that does not properly seat-belt the child, due to a flaw in the product design, would be considered a design defect.
Another example would be a clothing dresser that easily falls over and does not come paired with hardware or a warning to anchor the piece to a wall. Another example is a product that is made up of dangerous properties, such as lead.
A manufacturing defect is a defect that results from how the product is put together or assembled. In manufacturing defects, prior and up to the point of assembly, there is nothing actually defective about the product. However, during the assembly process, the product becomes defective either due to some mistake or incorrect assembly. This mistake during assembly renders the product as unsafe, especially with respect to the product’s potential to cause harm or injury.
What Is a Lead in Toys Lawsuit?
In the past, high lead content in many toys led to large scale legal issues due to the possibility of lead poisoning from exposure to the toys. These lead poisoning cases involved toys made of metal parts, as well as toys that used lead-based paint as a finish. A common example of products that contained lead was older die-cast cars which had been painted using a paint that contained lead.
Lead poisoning can often be very serious and may result in symptoms such as brain damage, nervous system damage, damage to kidneys, damage to internal organs, and high blood pressure to name a few. Lead poisoning may also result in learning disabilities in younger children who were exposed to the lead at an early development age. Due to the possibility of severe health consequences, government authorities have enacted strict laws regarding the use of lead content in toys for young children.
In the United States, federal laws state that any children’s product must not contain greater than 100 parts per million (“ppm”) of lead content in parts that are accessible to the child. Importantly, this regulation applies to any and all children’s toys and products produced after August 14, 2011.
Additionally, for paint utilized in children’s toys, the lead concentration must not exceed .009 ppm. One exception to this rule is with bikes, which cannot contain more than 300 ppm lead for parts that are accessible to a child. Further, any children’s jewelry containing more than 300 parts per million is not allowed to be sold.
If a manufacturer, producer, or retailer exceeds the above regulations, they can be held liable for knowingly producing, selling, or distributing products that exceed federal limitations. Additionally, the manufacturers, wholesalers, or retailers may also be held liable for selling a defective product.
How Can Lead Poisoning be Avoided?
While the new federal regulations attempt to curb lead poisoning cases, there are still ways in which a child can be exposed to lead in toys. For example, if the child’s parents travel to other countries and purchase toys in foreign countries without regulations, and then bring the toys back into the United States. These toys may contain lead, as the country of manufacturing and sale might not be subject to stringent checks on the amount of lead.
Additionally, the sale of vintage toys at auctions, thrift stores, or pawn shops may also contain lead. Once again, it is against the law for retailers to knowingly resell lead-containing products. This means that sellers of these vintage products may be held liable for lead in toys. Injuries resulting from lead poisoning can also often result in a class action toxic tort lawsuit.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Lead in Toys Lawsuit?
As can be seen, lead in toys can result in serious injuries for children. If your child has been harmed by lead in toys, you should consult with an experienced defective products lawyer.
An experienced attorney will be knowledgeable of the laws in your area, and assist you in determining your best course of legal action. Additionally, an attorney can file a civil lawsuit on your behalf, as well as represent you in court, as necessary.