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We live in a world where we are confronted with new products nearly every day. These products are often designed to make our lives easier and more enjoyable. As consumers, we have an expectation that the products we are sold will be designed, manufactured and sold free from dangerous defects. Unfortunately, every year several hundred products are recalled, and thousands of people are injured or killed as the result of dangerous and defective products.
California law creates several avenues for a consumer to seek compensation for injuries caused by a defective product. The most common include personal injury cases arise from claims of:
- A manufacturing defect;
- A defective in the product’s design; and
- A failure to warn consumers by way of inadequate or defective labeling.
In general, a design defect occurs when the product fails to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect, or if the risk of danger inherent in the design outweighs the benefits of design. A manufacturing defect occurs when the product was not manufactured in conformity with the manufacturer’s design. Failing to warn is actionable when the manufacturer or distributor knew or should have known of the danger and the necessity of warnings to ensure safe use by an unsuspecting consumer. Read on as we explore each of these claims in more depth and the standard of proof required for recovery.Strict Liability
A defect may occur in a product at any point of its design, its manufacture, or its distribution. California has adopted strict liability for harm caused by a defective product when it is placed into the stream of commerce. This means that you do not have to show a defendant was negligent to win a products liability case. However, you still must show the way in which the defect arose in order to name the parties are liable. Additionally, you must establish you used the product in either the way the manufacturer intended it to be used or a way that was reasonably foreseeable.Manufacturing Defects Defined
Manufacturing defects are product defects that arise during the product’s construction, meaning just a few of the items within the product line possess the specific defect at issue. A victim must prove several elements to recover in personal injury claims alleging manufacturing defects:
- That the defendant manufactured the product that caused harm;
- When the product left defendant’s possession it contained the defect;
- The product defect was responsible for creating an additional risk of injury;
- The defect was the substantial cause of your injury; and
- You were injured as a result;
Design defect cases allege the defect at issue exists in all items in the product line. Two tests are used to determine the existence of a design defect: consumer expectations and risk-benefit. California has made it a practice to use both, so it is wise to understand either one may be used in your case.
Manufactured products must meet the safety expectations an ordinary consumer would have. A product cannot pass the consumer expectations test if it does not satisfy an ordinary consumer’s expectation of the product safety. This evaluation is less technical because it largely avoids the use of scientific data, industry standards and practices, or expert testimony in favor of considering the general public’s “gut feeling.”
A product cannot pass the risk-benefit test in California if the risks of harm posed by the product’s design outweigh the benefits the design offers. Procedurally, you must first prove your injuries were caused by the defective design of the product. Then, you bear the burden of proving that any design risks are outweighed by the benefits (also called “utility”) of the defective product design. Factors weighed in determining this include:
- The design’s risk of harm;
- How serious any harm may be;
- The possibility of alternate designs posing less or no risk; and
- Disadvantages and problems affiliated with any proposed alternative designs.
It is a relatively common occurrence that consumers use products in ways unintended by the designer or manufacturer of that product. For example, people might put clothes in the dryer despite care tags specifically instructing they not be machine-dried or use a screwdriver to open a paint can. Companies must try to consider all unintended ways their product might be used by the average consumer and then take reasonable measures during design and manufacture to circumvent injuries that could occur in those reasonably foreseeable situations.
A common preventative measure is the inclusion of warning labels on their products that clearly state risks posed by using the product in a manner other than it was intended. However, a designer or manufacturer does not have to warn about risks if an ordinarily prudent person would recognize them. For example, if you receive shocks or burns from plugging in a hairdryer with soaking wet hands, you probably do not have a product liability claim.
Litigation against a manufacturer can be a long, expensive and complex process. At Walton Law, A.P.C., we have experience handing several types of product liability cases. Please call us immediately to ensure you preserve the right evidence and conduct a thorough investigation using the appropriate experts.
For a free and confidential consultation with an experienced attorney, please call us directly at (866) 338-7079, or click here to submit your inquiry online.