Suppose a suspected defective product recently injured you. In that case, understanding product liability claims and manufacturer negligence can help you feel better prepared and less anxious in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Product liability claims can be complex and vary slightly depending on the product, type of defect, and injury. It is best to consult an experienced lawyer before pursuing a product liability claim. However, this article will provide you with basic manufacturer negligence legal insights to help get you started.
California Product Liability Law
In California, a party who designs, manufactures, or sells a defective product is strictly liable for any injuries caused by that product, even if that party was not negligent or reckless in causing the injury. What does this mean? Typically, a defendant must have negligently, recklessly, or intentionally caused harm to be liable for injuries. However, in instances of strict liability, the defendant can be held accountable even if they did not necessarily do anything wrong.
Specifically, under California law, if a product is more dangerous than it should be or fails to warn of inherent dangers adequately, the manufacturer, designer, or retailer can be strictly liable for any injuries it causes so long as the product is used in a reasonably foreseeable way.
There are three types of product defects:
- Manufacturing defects. If a product is damaged, not appropriately assembled, or otherwise comes out of the manufacturing process incorrectly, it could have a manufacturing defect that ultimately causes an injury to its user.
- Design defects. When the design of a product is itself unsafe, it will pose a danger to the user even when it is manufactured correctly.
- Inadequate warning/failure to warn. A product can be designed and manufactured flawlessly, but many products can pose a danger to its user if used in a particular, typically incorrect, manner. Products and packaging must be appropriately labeled to warn of inherent risks.
Elements of a California Product Liability Claim
Generally, in California, you must prove four elements to prevail on a product liability claim:
- That the defendant manufactured, designed, distributed, or sold a defective product;
- That the product was defective when it left the defendant’s possession;
- You used the product in a reasonably foreseeable manner; and
- You suffered injury and damages as a result of the defect.
Remember, each of the three product liability claims will require you to prove slightly different elements to prevail, so the above list should only be used as a general reference guide. An experienced attorney can help you determine the exact elements you need to prove for your claim.
Who Can Be Held Liable?
There are several parties that can be held liable in a product liability lawsuit. Every situation is unique, and any number of parties may be responsible for your injury. Legally, this is referred to as joint and several liability. This means the plaintiff may collect the total value of the judgment or award from any of the defendants. That defendant may then seek contribution from the other wrongdoers. Some of the potentially liable parties in a product liability claim include manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, and retailers.
Manufacturers are the most apparent liable party in a product liability claim. However, holding a manufacturer responsible can take more work than you might think. Many products contain parts made by different manufacturers. For instance, your car or large home appliance will have components from a variety of companies. In some instances, the makers of the individual parts and the manufacturer of the entire product can be on the hook for injuries.
Distributors and Wholesalers
A manufacturer often sends a product to a wholesaler or distributor for packaging, shipping, and distribution. These middleman parties can be held liable for errors that occur during the time they are in possession of the product.
Retailers or the store you bought the product from can also be held accountable for mistakes, errors, or defects while the product is in their control.
What is “Reasonably Foreseeable” Use?
The reasonable use of a product does not necessarily mean that you have to use it exactly as the instruction manual intended but rather that you use it in a way that would be considered reasonable and predictable. The law requires the manufacturer to anticipate how a consumer might use the product. However, they cannot predict every use or misuse of a product. For example, a shower curtain rod is not meant to be a pull-up bar, just as bicycle tires are not meant for a car. These examples may seem silly, but manufacturers are not expected to foresee this misuse.
If the consumer exceeds the scope of anticipated use, they may be barred from filing a product liability claim.
Statute of Limitations
In California, the statute of limitations, or timeframe in which you must initiate a product liability lawsuit, is generally two years from the date of injury or the date that the injury was discovered. However, there are exceptions to this general rule that could either shorten or lengthen your deadline for filing a lawsuit. It is crucial to consult with a lawyer shortly after your injury in order to preserve your legal rights.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Product liability cases require strict adherence to law and procedure and often require experts to prevail. Frequently, the defendants are large corporations with deep pockets that spend lots of money defending your claim, prolong litigation, and initiate boatloads of discovery. Having a skilled and seasoned attorney for product liability cases can mean the difference in the success of your case.
Common Defenses to Manufacturer Negligence and Product Liability Claims
We already know that many defendants in a product liability case have the means to use every weapon at their disposal to defend against your claim. The basis for your claim will likely influence the defenses raised. Some common defenses to product liability lawsuits include:
- The product was not defective;
- It was not defective at the time of sale;
- A third party negligently repaired or altered the product;
- Incorrect usage of the product;
- Someone or something else caused your injury, and
- Your own negligence caused your injury.
Remember, as the plaintiff, it is your burden to prove your case despite any defenses raised.
Secure Justice with Our Seasoned Product Liability Legal Team
At Henderson Law, we have been helping those injured by a defective product for over 20 years. We have the knowledge, resources, and experience necessary for you to succeed. We prioritize providing individualized attention to every client. Contact us to schedule a free consultation to hear how we can help you seek justice for your injury.