According to products liability law, products sold into the stream of commerce are supposed to meet the ordinary expectations of consumers. In other words, the product should work in the way that a regular purchaser would assume it did.

When a product becomes defective or is considered to be dangerous to consumers, the incident may constitute grounds for bringing a products liability lawsuit.

In general, a products liability claim is an action brought by a plaintiff against a defendant to hold them responsible for either making a defective or dangerous product that injured the plaintiff when they used it.

The defendant is usually some type of distributor, wholesaler, manufacturer, or retailer that provides products to consumers. In some cases, it does not matter whether the seller actually caused the defect, it only matters if they were part of the supply chain that provided the products to consumers. This is known as a strict products liability lawsuit.

Aside from strict products liability, there are two other main claims that a plaintiff can bring against someone who provided them with a defective or dangerous commercial product. This includes actions for negligence and a breach of express or implied warranties.

The type of action that a plaintiff brings will help determine what defenses may be available for defendants. Some defenses will vary depending on the laws of a state and the surrounding facts of a case.

What are Some Defenses to Product Liability?

As mentioned above, the types of defenses available will depend on the laws of a state, the sort of claim filed, and sometimes certain facts that are specific to individual cases.

Some of the more frequently used defenses against a products liability claim include the following:

  • Unforeseeable Usage: A defendant will normally not be held liable for a plaintiff’s injury if the plaintiff has misused the product in such a way that it is unforeseeable to both the manufacturer and to the average purchaser. 
  • Assumption of Risk: A plaintiff may be barred from recovering monetary damages for their injuries if they knew of and voluntarily accepted the risks affiliated with the product, but chose to use it regardless. For example, a chainsaw which is understood to be a dangerous product.
  • Substantial Changes: If a plaintiff has substantially altered a product and that alteration led to their injuries, then it may be possible to relieve the defendant of liability. 
  • Comparative Fault: Comparative fault is a defense against a claim for negligence where a plaintiff is more at fault than the defendant for causing their injuries. However, it is only available in some states.
  • Contributory Negligence: Similar to comparative fault, contributory negligence is a defense to a negligence claim and only available in certain states. The difference between the two is that if a defendant proves contributory negligence (i.e., that the plaintiff contributed to their own injuries), then it can completely bar a plaintiff from recovering.

Although the above list provides some of the primary defenses that a defendant generally uses against a products liability claim, there may be others depending on the matter and the laws of a particular jurisdiction.

If you are a defendant who is involved in a products liability action, it may be in your best interest to speak to a defective product lawyer to determine whether there are any other defenses available for your case.

Is the Statute of Limitations a Defense in a Products Liability Case?

Statute of limitations may also operate as a defense in products liability cases. The statute of limitations refers to the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit for a certain action. The time frame is usually about three years, but this will vary depending on the state statute and the legal issue involved.

In a products liability case, if the statute of limitations has expired by the time the plaintiff files their case, the defendant can argue that the plaintiff’s case should be barred from being brought.

What If Something Else Caused the Plaintiff’s Injury?

A defendant is also permitted to argue that some other factor, which is unrelated to their product, caused the plaintiff’s injury. This could be a factor, such as a superseding cause or an unforeseeable circumstance.

For example, if the user was operating their chainsaw in a safe manner but was logging in a dangerous area. While they were operating the chainsaw, another tree fell and a branch hit the chainsaw which caused it to fly out of the user’s hands and injure them badly. In this case, the branch hitting the chainsaw and causing it to go out of control was an unforeseeable circumstance.

Do I Need a Personal Injury Attorney for Help with Product Liability Issues?

If you are a manufacturer, distributor, retailer, or wholesaler who is facing a products liability claim based on the fact that you may have sold, manufactured, or distributed a defective or dangerous product, then you should contact a defective products lawyer as soon as possible.

An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to assess whether you have any defenses available against the products liability claim, can help you negotiate during a settlement agreement, and can provide representation on your behalf in court if it becomes necessary.