Strict Product Liability: When “Defective” is More Than Just “Doesn’t Work”

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Occasionally when we buy something, no matter the flashy marketing made to sell the product or how many friends have also purchased the product with great results, we can still end up with something defective. In the worst-case scenario the product could even be dangerous, causing any number of injuries to the consumer. What happens when a consumer has been injured by the normal use of a defective or dangerous product?

This writeup intends to cover all of the information necessary to make an informed purchase, including:

  • How does Strict Product Liability law benefit the consumer?
  • A summary of Strict Product Liability law
  • What’s considered reasonable use of consumer product?
  • What’s the process for product recall?
  • What is “Awareness of Defect” in Product Liability law?
  • Further reading

How does Strict Product Liability law benefit the consumer?

The good news is that unlike being injured in a motor vehicle accident or because of employer-related negligence, recovering compensation for a product that causes you injury is more simplified. This happens to be because special rules apply for recovery when product liability law is concerned.

A victim injured as a result of a defective product may recover damages from anywhere within the chain of command, it depends on the specifics of the case. The chain of command could be the manufacturer, an online seller, a wholesaler, or a brick and mortar retail location where the product was purchased depending on the laws that apply in the state the product was purchased, or shipped to for its intended use.

In Florida, anyone in the chain of distribution, (this includes marketing, manufacturing, wholesale and retail sales) may have a lawsuit brought against them for failing to uphold the expected standard of care for providing a reasonable product to the consumer. In the case of a tangible item (as opposed to a service provided which ultimately caused harm), the expected standard should be that the product works effectively when used as per manufacturer supplied instructions. Any use falling outside the manufacturer’s suggested use for the product may not have grounds for litigation, as it could not be said the product was being used in a “reasonable” manner.

A summary of Strict Product Liability law

Under normal circumstances such as an automobile accident or a work-related injury, victims must show that the defendant (usually the other driver, then represented by an insurance company’s team of lawyers) acted in a manner that was unreasonable, negligent, or careless (or all three). This means a lawyer must be able to show the other party acted unreasonably, ultimately resulting in their client sustaining extended pain and suffering.

When it comes to products sold to consumers in a “marketplace” setting it is financially prohibitive and time consuming to try and seek out, then prove one person in the chain of command produced the defective merchandise and furthermore, then hold them responsible for their actions. Thousands of people work in factories producing consumer products every day. It is simply not feasible to do this and still recover adequate compensation to an injured victim.

However that’s why Product Liability Law exists. The consumer cannot be expected to prove fault in regard to a product they purchased with reasonable expectations of it performing in the way it was marketed to do so or per the manufacturer provided instructions detailing its proper use.

What’s considered reasonable use of consumer products?

It’s for these reasons that the law was developed with the principle of strict product liability. This allows the injured party to recover damages from the manufacturer or the seller of the defective product, without being forced to show that the defendant was negligent.

The way strict product liability works is as follows: if you purchase a product with the reasonable assumption that it will work as advertised and instead find that the product was so defective that it caused you serious bodily injury or the death of a loved one, you are entitled to retain legal counsel and obtain compensation from the manufacturer (or the business that sold the product).

What’s the process for product recall?

Furthermore, there are rules of strict product liability that must be met before a consumer can claim the product was defective. Labeling a product defective is a lengthy legal process that often ends in a recall of the product, causing a consumer headache and bad PR for the manufacturer when the safety of the consumer is put at-risk. That’s why the law has enacted certain steps that must be met before a lawsuit can be filed on behalf of a product-injured victim.

  1. The product has to be considered “unreasonably dangerous” in regard to its defect; this can be either within the design, during the manufacturing process, or during shipment to the seller.
  2. The defective merchandise caused the victim injury while it was being used in the way that’s considered reasonable (intended to be used).
  3. The product hasn’t been modified from the condition in which it was originally purchased. The word “substantially” applies in this instance. I.E. having to remove furniture from its packaging to build it is not considered “substantially” modifying the product outside of its intended use. The victim puts together furniture as per the directions and then becomes injured because the defective furniture is unstable and falls on the victim, causing a traumatic brain injury, is considered “reasonable”.

What is “Awareness of Defect” in product liability law?

Both the seller and the manufacturer have a claim of defense against “strict liability” that is important for every informed consumer to heed. If a consumer has owned a product known to be defective for an extended period of time, it may not be possible to file a case under the laws of strict liability. Sometimes, manufacturers or retailers will place a time limit on how long a consumer has to return a product found to be defective for a refund, or receive a replacement item that works correctly.

An example of this this is true in the case of IKEA’s “Malm” line of furniture. The retailer issued a product recall for the line due to its potential to tip over, causing small children serious bodily harm. IKEA deemed only Malm furniture purchased between 2002 and 2016 is eligible for the recall offer of a full refund or free of charge repair to the furniture.

Further reading: IKEA’s Malm furniture recall.

This “Awareness of Defect” law is in place due in part to the fact that a consumer may have known about the defect and continued to use the product regardless of having such knowledge. In the case of furniture prone to falling or tipping over, it may not have been known until the furniture caused harm to a child thus allowing a bigger window of return time on the products. If a consumer is made aware of a recall, but continues to use the product indefinitely, becoming injured due to continued use, this may be considered forfeiture of the right to obtain compensation.

While our articles are fully lawyer-backed and provide the most up to date information on the web, it’s important to always consult Board Certified legal representation for advice related to specifics of an individual injury and potential case.

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