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How to Know if You Have a Product Liability Case

Updated on June 20, 2016

Given the number of manufactured products most Americans use on a daily basis, such as automobiles, appliances, medicines, furniture, clothing—almost anything you can buy, in short—it’s not unusual to encounter a product that doesn’t work as you expect, or maybe doesn’t work at all. But when does a defect in a product turn into the basis for a product liability case?

A product liability case is considered a type of personal injury lawsuit. According to the experts at Hodes, Milman & Liebeck, LLP, the first step is to show that you have suffered an injury or loss connected to the product in question. That can mean an actual physical injury (like if an exploding airbag causes injury to a driver) or a financial loss (like if a defective washing machine floods a house and ruins the flooring). If the product malfunctioned but no damage was caused, then there is no basis for a claim.

Next, you have to show that the product was defective. Most product liability cases make their claim based on one of three things: the product had a manufacturing defect, the product had a design flaw, or the manufacturer failed to warn consumers of potential dangers in the product or did not adequately instruct consumers in how to use the product. To use latex paint as an example, a manufacturing defect would be if a specific batch of paint was contaminated with a chemical that created poisonous fumes; a design flaw would be if that brand of paint caused pitting when it was applied to drywall; and a failure to warn would be if the manufacturer didn’t provide notice that applying that paint over a particular type of primer would cause the paint to peel off of the walls prematurely.

The next step is to prove that the injury or loss you suffered can be directly attributed to the product’s defect. In some cases, this might be easy to prove—for example, if you became ill from taking herbal supplements that had been tainted with mold at the factory. However, this connection might not be as easy to make in other cases. For example, in a defective auto claim, the manufacturer may well examine all the circumstances surrounding an accident, such as how you were driving and the road conditions, to determine whether or not the accident was due to the defect in question or some other factor.

The final element is that you were using the product as it was intended to be used. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter. If your toaster shorts out the wiring in your house when you’re toasting a bagel, your claim wouldn’t be invalidated because you were toasting a product other than bread. However, if your toaster shorted out the wiring in your house because you were floating it on a kickboard in the pool while you were toasting bread, the manufacturer would have a strong argument that you weren’t using the toaster in the way an ordinary consumer would be expected to.

There is no federal law governing product liability cases, so the requirements needed to establish a claim can vary from state to state. If you have been injured by a defective product, you need experienced legal counsel who can effectively fight for your rights.


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