When we buy and use everyday products ranging from household appliances to cars, we expect them to work as intended. If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of a defective product, you may have a product liability claim. Injuries caused by faulty products could range from minor to catastrophic or even fatal.
Types of Product Liability Claims
While there may be a number of different types of product liability cases, they largely fall into three categories:
Manufacturing defects: This is the most common and obvious type of product liability claim when the product that causes the injury was defectively manufactured. A product that has a manufacturing defect is faulty because a mistake occurred in the manufacturing process. It could have, for example, occurred at a factory where the product was fabricated. Examples of a product with a manufacturing defect include:
- An elevator with a defectively manufactured pulley system that causes the car to collapse or fall injuring passengers.
- A vehicle with a missing steering part that causes loss of vehicle control.
- A bicycle with a defectively manufactured steering bar that causes the bicyclist to lose control.
- Children's jewelry or toys containing unacceptable levels of lead, which could be toxic.
In such cases, in order to file a product liability claim, the injury must be caused by a manufacturing defect. So, for example, if your vehicle veered off the roadway because of a faulty steering, you would have a product liability claim only if you can show evidence that your accident and resulting injuries were caused by the steering defect, not because of a mistake you made.
Defective design: In these cases, a product's design is inherently dangerous or defective. So, these types of product liability claims don't arise from some mistake during the manufacturing process, but rather involve the claim that an entire line of products is inherently dangerous irrespective of the fact that the product that caused the injury was made perfectly according to the manufacturer's specifications.
Here are some of the most common examples of design defects:
- A pelvic mesh device that disintegrates inside the body and damages internal organs because of its poor design.
- A poorly designed SUV that has the tendency to roll over when the driver takes a curve.
- A badly designed coffee maker that sprays hot liquid on users causing burn injuries.
- An inclined sleeper that could cause children to accidentally suffocate as a result of defective design.
In order to have a valid product liability claim, the injury must have been caused by faulty design that makes the product inherently dangerous. For example, if you use a product in a manner that it was not intended to be used, you may not have a claim. You must be able to show evidence that the product was defectively designed.
Failure to warn: The other type of product liability claim involves a failure to provide adequate warnings or instructions about the product's proper use. These types of claims often involve a product that is dangerous in a way that is not apparent to consumers. In some cases, these might involve products that require consumers to use special precautions while using them. Here are a few examples of situations that could result in a failure-to-warn claim:
- Child car seats and booster seats should come with specific instructions about proper installation failing which the seat may not properly protect the child.
- A sleeping pill that does not include on its label a warning that it may potentially cause dangerous side effects.
- Toys that don't have warning labels, which could cause serious injuries.
As with other product liability claims, for the claim to be successful, the plaintiff must prove that the injury resulted from a failure to warn or properly instruct.
What are California's Product Liability Laws?
California has a strict liability law when it comes to defective products. California law states that strict liability does not require a plaintiff to prove a defendant's negligence. In such cases, a defendant can be held liable under strict liability when they put a product on the market that causes injury or harm. Exempted under strict liability law are prescription drugs, medical devices and special-ordered products. If you are unsure about how California product liability laws apply to you, contact an experienced Los Angeles personal injury attorney who can help you better understand your legal rights and options.
Statute of Limitations
If you were injured by a defective product, under California law, you can bring a personal injury claim within two years of discovering that your injury was caused by the specific product. If the faulty product caused you property damage, you can bring a claim within three years of finding out that the damage was caused by product.
Limits on Damages
California uses the pure comparative fault standard. For example, if a product malfunctioned and caused damages, even if you were 75% at fault, you could still potentially recover damages from the manufacturer or seller of the product. California also uses the "economic loss rule," which prevents recovery of losses that are considered purely economic such as lost profits.
Elements of a Product Liability Claim
Here are the four elements you need to prove in order to establish that you have a product liability claim:
The product caused your injury. You must prove that the product was the cause of your injury and the resulting damages. Without actual injuries or other damages, you may not have a viable claim.
The product is defective. You must be able to show that the product was defective. For example, you may show that the product was "unreasonably dangerous" or posed an inherent danger because of how it was designed.
The product defect resulted in your injuries. You must also show that the faulty product was the proximate or direct cause of your injury. You must show that you were injured because of the defect. You can use evidence such as medical records or expert testimony to prove this element. An experienced lawyer will be able to help you compile evidence and gain access to experts to help prove your claim.
You used the product as intended. Your claim must be predicated on the fact that you used the product as it is meant to be used. If you used the product in a manner that was not appropriate, you may not have a viable case.
How Do I know if I Have Purchased or Used a Defective Product?
In an ideal world, all consumer products that are available in the market would have been well tested to prevent them from malfunctioning and causing injury or harm to those who use them. However, there are a number of products in the market that are faulty because of manufacturing defects, design flaws or because manufacturers fail to warn users about the potential hazards of the product.
One of the simplest ways to find out if you have purchased or used a defective product is to see if that particular product has been recalled for safety issues. But, unfortunately, manufacturers are not diligent about publicizing their recalls. They are also often slow to even issue recalls for products because they worry about their profits and the negative publicity that comes with a recall campaign. It is a good idea for consumers to visit Recalls.gov to search for recalled or defective products by keyword or category.
If a company does not recall a product in a timely manner or if consumers have not heard about the recall, manufacturers of consumer goods are still held to strict liability, which means if you have been injured as the result of their defective product, they can be held financially responsible for the injuries and damages caused. Injured victims, as plaintiffs, must prove that a product is unreasonably dangerous to hold the manufacturer, designer or seller accountable.
Manufacturing Defect Versus Design Defect
When a mistake occurs in the manufacturing or design process, there is a heightened risk that a consumer might become injured, or sustain property damage. Some manufacturing and design defects have the potential to cause significant injury or even death. These dangerous product defects occur more frequently than we know. The law protects you whether you have been harmed by a manufacturing or design defect.
When a product is created, there are different stages of the process in which a defect can occur. Therefore, multiple parties who are involved in these different stages of the process can be held liable. A manufacturing error is one that occurs during the manufacturing process. When this happens, the product is not true to its design and may pose safety issues. The most common defects that arise from the manufacturing process involve poor quality control, use of substandard materials and poor workmanship.
Design defects occur when there is a flaw in the product's original design, which makes it dangerous for consumers. For example, when a piece of furniture such as a dresser is not properly designed, it could topple over, causing injuries or even fatalities. Such defects could make products inherently dangerous. Regardless of what type of flaw caused your injuries or damages, it is important that you contact an experienced product liability lawyer who can help you better understand your legal rights.
Negligence in Product Safety
Consumers expect products to be safe when they use them as intended. Manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, retailers and other parties involved in the production and distribution process have a duty to meet a reasonable standard of care and create a safe product for consumers. If any one or more of the parties in the production chain fails to exercise reasonable care, and their action (or lack of action) results in injury, they may have acted negligently.
Negligence claims under product liability law include manufacturing errors, design flaws and failure to warn consumers about the dangers associated with the product. However, in a product liability claim, the plaintiff or the injured party has the burden of proof when it comes to proving negligence. For a plaintiff to recover compensation under the negligence theory of liability, they must establish the following:
- The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff
- The manufacturer breached or violated that duty to the plaintiff
- This breach of care caused the plaintiff's injury
- The plaintiff sustained damaged because of the manufacturer's negligence
Under California's "comparative negligence" law, plaintiffs can still seek compensation even if they are partially at fault. They are still eligible to receive compensation if a defective product caused their injuries, damages and losses.
Product Liability Laws Are Different by State
In the United States, product liability law is determined almost exclusively by each of the individual 50 states. So, what is the law in Florida or New York might not necessarily apply to California. While the law has some elements in common across many states, the variations in state laws can have a tremendous effect on the viability of a product liability claim. At the same time, it is important to remember that these laws are continually changing.
It is important to understand that product liability lawsuits can be brought in either state or federal court depending where the parties are located and amount/nature of damages at issue. Product liability and its related negligence causes of action are constructs of state law. If the case is filed in state court, that court's judge will adjudicate the case. In some cases where a plaintiff and defendant are citizens of different states, a federal district court may have jurisdiction.
Each product liability matter is unique. It might be in your best interest to contact an experienced California product liability lawyer who will take a close look at your case and the issues surrounding it, and determine the course of action that would be most advantageous to you.
What to Do If a Defective Product Has Injured You
The strength of your product liability lawsuit depends largely on the actions you take after you have been injured by a defective product. First, it's important to seek prompt medical attention, treatment and care. If you have been injured by what you suspect may be a defective product, go to the emergency room or hospital right away. It is crucial that you have a record of the injury you sustained and the treatment you received for it.
Report the accident to the manufacturer and make sure you get a copy of the report for your records. Never give a verbal or written statement before you speak with a product defect attorney. If you are injured by a defective product at work, report the accident to your employer and/or supervisor and contact your insurance company.
It is also important that you compile the necessary evidence that could help bolster your claim. Take photos of the defective product or images that show that the product had malfunctioned. Also take photos of the injuries you have suffered. It is also important, if possible, to preserve the product that caused your injury in its current state so it can be carefully examined for manufacturing defects, faulty design and other evidence. For example, if you were involved in a car accident where you suspect a product defect, do not repair your vehicle until it has been thoroughly examined by an expert for evidence.
Resist the urge to share your experience on social media. What you post on social media or online can be used by you. Do not sign an agreement with the manufacturer or accept a settlement offer unless you've discussed the matter with your product liability lawyer. Once you've signed an agreement, you may not be able to recover any further compensation for your losses.
Should I Join a Class Action or File an Individual Lawsuit?
There may be some advantages to joining a class action lawsuit instead of an individual lawsuit. In a vast majority of cases, joining a class action lawsuit will not cost you anything in terms of legal fees. The only plaintiff in a class action that might have to pay legal fees is the class action representative. Attorney's fees are usually paid out before the monetary damages awarded in the class action lawsuit are awarded to the plaintiffs.
Also, with a class action lawsuit, you will not need to testify or be part of case preparation. Typically, no action is needed on your part except to elect to be part of the class. Once the case is settled, you will receive a check that reflects your share of the settlement.
However, a class action lawsuit may not be the right course of action for you. For example, if you were injured as the result of a product defect and your injuries were severe, you will want to pursue the maximum possible compensation for your injuries and damages.
By filing a product liability lawsuit, you can also seek damages for pain and suffering as well as lost earning capacity and permanent injuries, if your injuries are catastrophic. An experienced product liability lawyer will be able to weigh all aspects of your case and determine which might be the best course of action for you.
Winning California Products Liability Cases
In order to be successful with your product liability claim, a plaintiff must prove the following:
- You were using the product as intended
- The product was defective
- You were injured or suffered losses
- The product defect was the proximate cause of your injury
At Greenberg and Ruby Injury Attorneys, APC, our attorneys have significant experience litigating product defect cases. If you have been injured on the job, we will look into whether a product defect caused or contributed to your injuries. If that was the case, in addition to workers' compensation benefits, you may also be able to file a third-party claim against the manufacturer of the faulty product.
Our law firm has had remarkable success handling similar cases. As co-counsel, we represented three adult children of a truck driver who died when the truck she was driving burst into flames. In December 2019, the trial team successfully obtained a $12 million wrongful death on behalf of the plaintiffs. The jury found that the truck's design was defective and apportioned 100% fault to the defendant vehicle manufacturer, in this case, Daimler Trucks North America.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury or has lost a loved one as the result of a dangerous or defective product, contact us to schedule a free consultation and comprehensive evaluation.
Experienced Lawyers Can Help
If you or a loved one has been injured by a defective product, you may be eligible to receive compensation for damages including medical expenses, lost income, permanent injuries, disabilities, and pain and suffering. If you have lost a loved one, you may be able to recover compensation by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
In addition to compensatory damages, injured victims may also be awarded punitive damages, which are typically awarded in the most egregious cases – such as those where a manufacturer knew about the dangers the product posed, but did not warn consumers. Call the experienced Los Angeles product liability attorneys at Greenberg and Ruby Injury Attorneys, APC to find out how we can fight to help you receive maximum compensation for your losses.