Products Liabilty

What is products liability law?

Products liability is the area of law that deals with any injury or damage that a consumer experiences when using a defective or dangerous product. The injury or damage could be a result of product failure, mislabeling or misuse. Products liability cases frequently involve strict liability, negligence, breach of warranty and a variety of consumer protection claims.

What qualifies — or defines —  a “defect” under California law?

Products liability claims typically involve one of the following defects:

  • Manufacturing Defect – where the product was well designed but improperly made
  • Design Defect  –  when the design of the product is unsafe and subsequently leads to danger in the entire product line
  • Insufficient Instructions or Warnings – where a product was safe for use, but the instructions or warnings were insufficient

What do I have to prove to be successful under strict-liability law?

If a claim falls under the strict-liability law, a plaintiff needs only to show that the product was defective and that the defect caused the injury or damage. Thus, a plaintiff does not have to establish fault.

Do I need an attorney for a products liability claim?

A products liability claim can involve several complicated issues including what types of claims exist, whom to file suit against, and whether the potential defendants have any strong defenses. Moreover, sometimes product liability cases result in class actions and involve complicated causation issues requiring expert testimony. Thus, it is advisable to consult with an attorney who can carefully evaluate your case.

How do the concepts of ‘caveat emptor’ and ‘strict liability’ work?

The doctrine of caveat emptor requires a buyer to inspect and ask relevant safety questions about a product before purchasing; on the other hand, strict liability imposes a responsibility on the distribution chain for the injury caused by a defective product. Generally speaking, the law presumes that manufacturers are in the best position to check and to prevent a defective product from entering the market; however, a buyer should also inspect a product and exercise caution during use.

What are the elements of a products liability action?

To recover products liability damages, a plaintiff must establish that

  • The defective product is a ‘product’ as defined by the law
  • The product was defective
  • The defect was inherent when it left the manufacturer or the other defendants in the chain of distribution
  • The injury or damage was caused by the defect in the product.

For a law firm that represents defendants:

What is a “product” under California law?

Although there is no specific limit to the list of products that are covered under the products liability law, some categories of products that could form the basis of a products liability suit are:

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Apparel
  • Asbestos
  • Chemicals & cosmetics
  • Firearms
  • Food & agricultural products
  • Machinery and tools
  • Medical products & devices
  • Motor vehicle defects
  • Pharmaceutical products
  • Recreational products
  • Tobacco

What are the various legal theories in products liability actions?

The possible legal theories in products liability cases include:

  • Negligence — a defendant’s lack of reasonable care in the manufacture or sale of the product, or in warning/instructing about its use
  • Breach of Warranty — a defendant’s failure to fulfill the express terms and conditions promised when the product was purchased
  • Misrepresentation — a defendant’s provision of false or misleading information to a buyer about a product’s safety
  • Strict Liability —  defendants, regardless of fault, distributed a defective product that caused injury

What if the plaintiff misused the product that caused the injury?

If a defendant establishes that injury was caused by the plaintiff’s improper use — despite warnings and instructions — the claims are generally dismissed. However, the inquiry can be highly case specific and can depend on the kind of the product, the purpose of the product, the reasonable foreseeable care taken by defendants, the sufficiency of warning and instructions, and other factors that would have enabled the plaintiff to avoid the injury.

What is breach of warranty in a products liability case?

The products liability law basically recognizes three kinds of warranties as a part of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). These are:

  • express warranties
  • implied warranty of merchantability
  • implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose

If a defendant fails to fulfill or breaches any of the warranties stated above, it may be liable for both breach of warranty and strict liability. Breach-of-warranty claims require a plaintiff to show that a defendant received prompt notice of the breach, that defendant failed to take action to fix the defect, and that the buyer has relied on the warranty.

What happens if there is a failure to provide adequate information or warning about the product under California products liability law?

California law places the burden of foreseeing all uses of a product on manufacturers. Thus, a manufacturer must take reasonable care and caution while manufacturing the product and inform others about, for example, how the product works and what the possible side effects or hazards might be. If a manufacturer fails to provide adequate warning or instruction about the product, it can be liable for negligence or strict liability, depending on the facts of the particular case.

Resource Links

LexisNexis Workers’ Compensation Web Center

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection

International Organization for Standardization

Public Citizen (consumer watchdog for product safety)

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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