What Is Product Liability?
Product liability is a law designed to protect the consumer from faulty or otherwise dangerous goods. The law holds many different areas of the “supply chain” responsible, including manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. In fact, anyone who makes these products available to the public can be held accountable by the laws of product liability.
Types of Product Liability
Product liability generally falls into three main categories:
- Design Defects: The product design is either dangerous or useless (or both) no matter how well it is manufactured.
- Manufacturing Defects: Due to either shoddy workmanship or using poor quality materials (or both), the product is either dangerous or useless.
- Marketing Defects: There is a failure to warn about other potential hazards of the product (ie. “This item is a choking hazard and not suitable for babies under the age of 3″).
The Theories of Product Liability
In the United States, the most common claims which are associated with product liability are negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty.
- Negligence: In order to make the claim of negligence stick, you have to first establish that the manufacturer had a specific duty to supply a product of a certain quality and that the duty was breached. You then need to prove that the breach was the cause of an injury to the plaintiff and that this is a quantifiable injury for which they can claim recompense. One problem with negligence is that you have to prove that the conduct of the defendant fell below the relevant standard of care… But what exactly is the relevant standard of care? Where do you draw the line? If the entire industry settles into a careless standard of conduct and even if a plaintiff suffers injuries because of that negligence, how do you prove that a particular defendant was guilty of negligence? Often times, negligence is a very hard burden of proof to uphold.
- Strict Liability: Strict liability doesn’t focus so much on the manufacturer (like in negligence above) but more on the actual product itself. The manufacturer is liable if the product is defective and has caused injury, even if the manufacturer wasn’t negligent in making the product defective. So, if a manufacturer makes a product which causes injury, then they are responsible for that because they are in the best position for anticipating and reducing the risk of potential hazards and dangerous products onto the market. Strict liability applies when the best public interest is to either stop production or somehow modify the product so that it does not pose a health hazard in the future.
- Breach of Warranty: The warranty is a statement about the product which can be made by either the manufacturer or the seller. These claims are generally dealt with directly between the injured person and the manufacturer or seller. If the manufacturer claims that a product is good for a certain job then it is reasonable to expect that it will not be dangerous when used for that particular job. Of course, to safeguard themselves many manufacturers do put disclaimers onto products. For example, a step ladder may be deemed safe only for persons under a certain weight so if you are over the weight limit and are injured while using their product, you won’t be able to sue the company.
Product Liability Cases
If you’ve ever been injured by a faulty or dangerous product, you might not be on your own. Of course there’s always strength in numbers and if you suspect that something fishy is going on and your accident wasn’t necessarily “just one of those things” then it might help if you found out about other people had the same experience or accident as you have. Let’s take a look at some examples and prepare to be astounded. Very often there’s more than one victim of a faulty or dangerous product.
Firestone Tire Recall
The failure rate of some Firestone and Bridgestone tires triggered the largest recall in the history of the US automotive industry. The product was closely associated with Ford Explorer models during the mid- to late-1990s and early 2000s. Experts estimate that as many as 250 died and thousands more were seriously injured as a direct result of the defective tires. Most of these accidents occurred on the Ford Explorer which had a tendency to roll over when one of the tires blew.
Such large multinational corporations can seem just too big to tackle for an individual. However, there was strength in numbers and once the problem was properly highlighted, it turned into one of the biggest product liability cases of all time.
Of course, Bridgestone executives originally denied that there was any problem at all, blaming anything from driving in high temperatures, the wrong tire pressures, or high speeds as causing the problems. The next question was if the Ford motor company knew about the problem. After all, it was their Ford Explorer which was causing most of the problems. Ultimately, Firestone and Bridgestone were forced to recall millions of tires.
Warner-Lambert’s drug Rezulin was hailed as a miracle cure for Type 2 diabetes when it hit the marketplace after being approved by the FDA in 1997. However, the side effects of the drug were never fully understood and the potential dangers were not fully examined.
By the time it was recalled in March 2000, Warner-Lambert had made $2.1 billion in sales (and that’s when $2.1 billion was a lot of money). The company soon found themselves in the middle of countless lawsuits with Rezulin being linked to an estimated 391 deaths, hundreds of cases of liver damage and heart problems.
A study by the FDA consequently found that:
- at least 430 Rezulin patients suffered from liver failure
- Rezulin actually increased the patients’ risk by 1,200 times of contracting liver failure
- getting one liver test cannot guarantee the patients safety, as the Rezulin can attack the liver at any time without previous warning
At its peak, an estimated 2 million patients were taking Rezulin throughout the United States. Rezulin is now considered to be “one of the most dangerous drugs on the market.”
1997 wasn’t really a good year for the FDA because that’s when they also approved the diet pill Meridia. It was eventually linked to an estimated 29 deaths along with hundreds of cases of known side effects. In fact, it was soon found that the risk of side effects from Meridia far outweighed any of the potential benefits. These serious side effects include:
- increased blood pressure
- constant breathlessness
- dizziness and fainting
- chest pain
- heart disease