Legal Issues: Product Liability

Product Liability Cases

If you’ve been injured by a faulty or dangerous product, realistically, 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 maybe it would help if you found out about other people who have had exactly 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.

Product Liability Case – Firestone Tire Recall

The failure rate of some Firestone and Bridgestone tires has 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 2000. There’s actually an entire website which is dedicated to informing the public about the extent of the danger, the number of people who have been killed or seriously injured as a direct result of these faulty products and all of the latest developments.

Experts predicted that as many as 250 may have died and thousands more seriously injured as a direct result of the  defective tires, mostly 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, but as we’ve already said, there is 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, at the wrong tire pressures, at high speeds as causing the problems.  The next question was “did the Ford motor company know about the problem”. After all, it was their Ford Explorer which was causing most of the problems.

Product Liability Case – Rezulin

Rezulin was hailed as a miracle cure when it hit the marketplace after being approved by the FDA in 1997. The miracle pill was going to save the 15 million Americans which suffered from Type 2 Diabetes. By the time it was recalled in March 2000, Warner-Lambert, the manufacturing company had made $2.1 billion in sales (and that’s when $2.1 billion was a lot of money). Unfortunately, nobody had ever realized the potential side effects of Rezulin. 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
  • An estimated 2 million patients were taking Rezulin throughout the United States, now considered to be “one of the most dangerous drugs on the market”.

Product Liability Case – Meridia

1997 wasn’t really a good year for the FDA, because that’s when they also approved the diet pill Meridia. It was 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
  • stroke
  • seizures

to mention but a few! 

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, i.e.

  • manufacturers
  • distributors
  • 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
  • failure to warn about potential hazards (otherwise known as marketing defects) – you know the sort of thing, “choking hazard not suitable for babies under the age of 3″ – on a birthday badge for a 2 year old!!

The Theories of Product Liability

In the United States, the most common claims which are associated with product liability are:

  • Negligence – in order to make this stick you have to first establish that the manufacturer, for example, 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 – 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, then even if a plaintiff suffers injuries because of that negligence how do you prove that a particular defendant was guilty of negligence, in the legal sense – see what I mean, it can get extremely tricky and more than a little pricey to prove.
  • Strict Liability – doesn’t focus so much on the manufacturer (like in negligence above) but more on the actual product. 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 – are you managing to keep up? So, if a manufacturer makes a product which causes injury, then they are responsible for that as they are in the best position for anticipating and reducing the risk of potential hazards and dangerous products onto the market. It really is in the public interest 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, fall off and break your leg you haven’t got a leg to stand on – well, you have, but only one!
So you see, product liability really is about making the manufacturers, distributors and retailers of all products responsible for their actions – it’s the law!
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, i.e.

  • manufacturers
  • distributors
  • 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
  • failure to warn about potential hazards (otherwise known as marketing defects) – you know the sort of thing, “choking hazard not suitable for babies under the age of 3″ – on a birthday badge for a 2 year old!!

The Theories of Product Liability

In the United States, the most common claims which are associated with product liability are:

  • Negligence – in order to make this stick you have to first establish that the manufacturer, for example, 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 – 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, then even if a plaintiff suffers injuries because of that negligence how do you prove that a particular defendant was guilty of negligence, in the legal sense – see what I mean, it can get extremely tricky and more than a little pricey to prove.
  • Strict Liability – doesn’t focus so much on the manufacturer (like in negligence above) but more on the actual product. 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 – are you managing to keep up? So, if a manufacturer makes a product which causes injury, then they are responsible for that as they are in the best position for anticipating and reducing the risk of potential hazards and dangerous products onto the market. It really is in the public interest 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, fall off and break your leg you haven’t got a leg to stand on – well, you have, but only one!

So you see, product liability really is about making the manufacturers, distributors and retailers of all products responsible for their actions – it’s the law!

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