A product liability claim is a type of lawsuit that an injured consumer may file against the manufacturer, distributor, designer, and/or retailer of a defective or faulty product, depending on the party responsible for their resulting injuries. In general, most product liability lawsuits fall under one of the following four legal theories:
- Strict liability;
- Breach of warranty; and/or
For the most part, product liability cases are primarily governed by specific state statutes. However, there are a few guiding principles derived from tort law that may apply across the board as well as a handful of landmark product liability cases that were decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Otherwise, the majority of case law and statutes on product liability will stem from the laws of individual states and thus can vary widely from state to state.
Since state law will typically control the outcome of a product liability lawsuit, it would be best to hire a lawyer who is familiar with the law and/or practices in the jurisdiction whose laws will apply to the case. Once you find a lawyer, be prepared to answer some of the following questions:
- Describe the sequence of events that led to the lawsuit. For instance, what happened? How did you receive your injury? What product were you using when your injury occurred?
- Did you read and follow the instructions prior to using the product?
- Did you inform the company about your experience with their product?
- Do you still have the product in your possession? Or, did you already throw it away or return it?
- Did you alter the product in question in any way, shape, or form prior to using it?
- Did you report your injuries to emergency services or at least seek medical attention? If you did, can you provide the receipts for your medical expenses (e.g., hospital bills, payments for pharmacy prescriptions, doctor’s visit, etc.)?
- Do you still have the receipt that proves you purchased the potentially defective product?
- Are there any other documents or information that may be relevant to either your injuries or the product itself?
If you are still unsure after reviewing the questions provided in the above list, do not panic because your lawyer can walk you through this process step by step. Also, some of the above questions may not apply in every case. Hence, why it is so important to consult a local consumer lawyer who can further assist you in a way that is tailored to your case.
Ultimately, so long as you can relay the events leading up to your injury and how the product contributed to causing that injury, it can make the initial consultation meeting with your lawyer go much more smoothly and efficiently.
Additionally, preparing a summary statement in advance can help to ensure that you do not leave out any key facts during the meeting with your lawyer. It can also make it easier for your lawyer to assess your situation quicker, which could potentially mean that they will be able to recommend your options for legal recourse in that initial meeting, as opposed to you having to wait until your next session when you have gathered all of the facts.
Remember, the better prepared you are and the more information you have about the matter, the better your chances are of obtaining a successful outcome for your case.
Was the Product Defective?
One of the plaintiff’s main objectives in a product liability case is to prove that a product was in fact defective. In general, there are three separate types of defects that can arise in a product liability case. These include the following:
- Design defects: Design defects mean that there is an issue with the overall design of the product or that a specific product was flawed from the start.
- Manufacturing defects: Do not confuse manufacturing defects with design defects. Design defects apply to the overall product. In contrast, a manufacturing defect has nothing to do with the design of the product itself, but rather relates to an error or flaw that occurred during the manufacturing process. For instance, if while the final product was being constructed, the manufacturers forgot to include a certain part.
- Warning defects: Warning defects refer to issues with instruction manuals, external packaging labels, and/or various other marketing materials that are used to warn consumers about improper uses and hazards associated with a particular product.
If a consumer is unsure of which category a product defect falls into or if they believe the product may contain one or more of the above defects, then they may want to consult a local consumer lawyer for further legal advice. The answer to this question will be an essential part of their lawsuit.
Did the Product Defect Cause Your Injury?
A consumer must be able to prove that a defect in the product directly caused their injury. This means that they must provide actual proof. Simply claiming that a product injured them will not be sufficient to bring a lawsuit. Thus, a consumer should consider whether an injury would have occurred regardless of its defect.
For example, motor vehicles are known to flip or roll over for various reasons. If a vehicle flipped or rolled over because the consumer was speeding, then this cause will not be attributable to a product defect. On the other hand, if a vehicle crashed because it was starting to flip or roll over, then this may indicate that there is a defect in the product.
In general, fault tends to play a major role in many product liability cases since such cases are typically based on a strict liability theory or involve a claim for negligence. Accordingly, a consumer should consider whether any of their own actions contributed to their injury. A consumer should also check to see whether a product contained instructions or if it came with a warning label that advised against certain uses.
How Has the Injury Affected Your Life?
In addition to many other factors, the party will also need to prove that the product in question caused them to suffer an injury that led to specific damages. In other words, the injured party must be able to demonstrate how the injury has affected their life.
For instance, are they having trouble paying monthly bills now because all of their money was spent on medical treatments due to their injury? Or, have they lost their job or potential for future earning capacity? Did they suffer physical pain and/or emotional distress?
All of the answers to these questions will affect the amount of damages that the injured party can recover. The most important one of them being how exactly the injury affected their life because if it did not, then the injured party may not be able to collect damages.
Were You Using the Product as It Was Intended?
Depending on state law, the facts of an individual case, and on the type of product liability claim being asserted, the injured party may have to show that they were using the product in the way in which it was intended. If they were not, then this could hurt their chances of winning the case.
There are some instances, however, where an injured party may still win a case even if they did not use a product in the way for which it was intended. If the injured party can prove that the manufacturer could reasonably anticipate or foresee that an ordinary consumer may use the product in the same manner as the injured party, then their claim for product liability will likely be upheld.
On the other hand, if the injured party did not use the product as it was intended or cannot prove that the manufacturer could foresee such a result, then it might be very difficult for them to succeed on the claim.
Be Prepared to Gather All Relevant Documents
As previously discussed, a lawyer may request that a client gather all relevant documents prior to their first consultation meeting. Since proving damages is often an important aspect of products liability cases, a lawyer will likely ask their client to provide documents that show proof that they suffered an injury due to their use of a defective product.
This may include items, such as:
- Medical records;
- Doctors’ notes;
- Insurance information;
- Hospital bills or other medical expenses;
- Prescription costs;
- Proof of lost wages (e.g., if the client has to take off of work to recover from their injuries); and/or
- Proof that they purchased the product like a receipt or credit card statement.
Getting the Help You Need
Claims involving product liability issues can be extremely time-consuming and costly. The fact that the law varies from state to state only exacerbates these problems and can make an already complicated matter even more complex.
In some instances, a product liability lawsuit may also be delayed if there are initial issues that a court will need to rule on, such as if another defendant should be added to the lawsuit or which state law should govern the case. This can potentially prolong the litigation process and can increase the total amount of legal fees required to resolve the issue.
Therefore, it is important that you hire a local defective products lawyer who is not only familiar with the product liability laws in your state, but also has experience in handling product liability cases that contain issues that are similar to the ones in your own case. As mentioned, your lawyer can discuss your options for legal recourse and can explain the remedies associated with each of those options.
Your lawyer can also assist you in filing a claim and in recovering damages. Additionally, your lawyer can provide legal representation during relevant court proceedings and/or can negotiate on your behalf at a settlement conference.