As the holiday season approaches, parents begin searching the shelves for kids’ gifts. Despite the joy these toys bring, some cause injuries. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 200,000 children were injured by defective toys in 2021 alone. If a child is injured by a toy, California law may allow you to hold the manufacturer responsible through a product liability claim. Here, we examine the different types of California product liability claims, particularly toy-related injury liability claims, and the rights a consumer has if their child suffers an injury.
Types of California Product Safety Liability Claims
Victims harmed by defective products can seek compensation for their injuries under an area of law known as product liability. In California, there are three types of product liability claims:
- Strict liability,
- Negligence, and
- Breach of warranty.
Most product liability claims are based on strict liability. Determining whether a claim should be based on the theory of strict liability, negligence, or breach of warranty is fact-specific, as each type of claim requires proving different essential elements.
Strict Liability and Legal Responsibility for Toy-Related Injuries
Most injury cases are based on the legal theory of negligence, where the defendant must prove they were injured as a result of the plaintiff’s wrongful act. However, in cases involving defective products, including defective toys, victims may pursue claims under the strict liability theory, which holds defendants liable regardless of whether they were negligent. Instead, culpability is determined by the extent to which the defendant is “responsible for placing products in the stream of commerce.” To prevail in a strict liability claim, a plaintiff must prove the following elements:
- The defendant designed, manufactured, distributed, or sold the toy;
- The toy was used as intended or in a reasonably foreseeable manner;
- The toy was defective while in the defendant’s possession; and
- The plaintiff suffered injuries as a result of the defect.
Under California law, retailers as well as manufacturers can be held liable for injuries caused by unsafe children’s toys.
Types of Defects
In California, strict liability can be imposed for three types of defects:
- Design defect. A toy’s design is defective if it fails to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect when using it in an intended or reasonably foreseeable manner. For example, a baby toy may be designed with a small piece that poses a choking hazard.
- Failure to warn. Also called a marketing defect, this happens when the defendant’s failure to warn of unknown risks or provide inadequate instructions causes injury. With a failure to warn defect, even toys that are flawlessly designed and manufactured may cause liability if someone is injured. For example, if a toy designed for older children presents a choking hazard, the box should contain warnings for parents or an age restriction.
- Manufacturing defect. This defect happens during the manufacturing, construction, or production of a toy. One example is if a toy is manufactured with substandard materials, and a piece breaks off and cuts or otherwise injures the child using it.
The manufacturer, supplier, seller, and distributor may have legal responsibility for toy-related injuries caused by one of these defects.
Negligence and Product Liability
While strict liability claims are the most common when it comes to product liability, sometimes a plaintiff may allege they are entitled to compensation due to the negligence of a person or particular company responsible for placing a toy on the market. This can include negligent product design, manufacture, supply, inspection, installation, repair, or rental. To prove negligence in a toy-related product liability case, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant failed to take reasonable steps to correct product defects or risks they knew or should have known about.
Breach of Warranty Claims
Although breach of warranty claims are generally based in contract, California recognizes breach of warranty claims as independent claims when brought with other product liability claims. The two types of warranties are:
- Express warranties. This happens when a party makes guarantees about a product that they fail to meet. For example, a salesman makes an express warranty about a toy’s suitability for a consumer. If the consumer relies on the warranty and is injured, the other party can be held liable as long as the toy was used within those parameters.
- Implied warranties. These are not explicitly stated but implied when a consumer purchases a product. These include warranties of merchantability, or that a toy is generally suitable for intended use, and fitness for a particular purpose.
An attorney can help you determine whether you may have a breach of warranty claim.
Statute of Limitations for Product Liability Claims
Every claim has a time limit in which legal action can be taken, known as its statute of limitations. In California, the statute of limitations for defective products requires you to initiate a claim within two years. While some warranty claims have a four-year statute of limitations, it is important to note that this does not apply to claims resulting in personal injury. Instead, the statute of limitations is two years unless another more specific personal injury statute of limitations applies.
This clock begins running when the injured party knows or, in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known the injury occurred. Sometimes, an injury is obvious and needs immediate attention, which makes the start of the statute of limitations obvious. In some cases, a child may not show signs or symptoms of an injury until afterward. In these cases, the statute of limitations begins running when the damage is discovered.
Product Liability Damages
The goal of personal injury law is to make the injured party whole for the damages they suffered when someone else is at fault. For children injured by defective toys, this can include medical and other costs associated with the injury. Punitive damages, though rare, may also be available when the plaintiff proves by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant is guilty of “oppression, fraud, or malice.”
Trust Henderson Law
Consumer products like children’s toys should be designed to withstand the normal level of use that can reasonably be expected from the average user. When the average user is a child, their age needs to be considered. Attorney Michael Henderson is a tested personal injury attorney with nearly three decades of experience. He has received recognition from peers and clients alike, earning recognition as one of the Top 100 Trial Lawyers by The National Trial Lawyers Association twice and a 10.0 rating on the legal service AVVO. If you have questions about legal responsibility for toy-related injuries, call us to set up a consultation or fill out our online contact form to get started today.