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Product Liability Claims
Manufacturers and sellers of defective products may be held responsible for injuries that are caused by their products under the body of law known as products liability. A product is essentially anything that is sold for use or consumption, with the exception of services and real estate. In New Jersey, the state’s Product Liability Act (NJPLA) of 1987 governs most of these claims.
The concept of strict liability applies to a broad range of products. This legal theory establishes responsibility for certain injuries or damages without the need to prove negligent behavior. In product liability law, retailers, manufactures, designers, installers, merchants, distributors and others in the chain of distribution owe a duty to the end users of the products. These responsible parties must ensure that their products are proper and fitting for their intended use within a reasonable degree of safety. This duty may also extend to other uses of the product, if they should have been foreseeable or probable. This duty is owed to both the end user and others who may conceivably come in contact with the product.
Strict liability focuses on the product, not the conduct of the parties. For strict liability to apply it must generally be established by a plaintiff that:
The product was in the same condition at the time of the injury as when it left the manufacturer and;
The product was the proximate cause of the injuries.
When strict liability applies, there is a presumption of negligence created against the defendant product manufacturer.
Types of Product Defects
There are several theories of liability in product liability cases. Any of the following three product deficiencies may result in a product liability claim.
Design defect is one of the most commonly litigated claims in product liability law. In these cases, it is alleged that the product was properly fabricated in accordance with its intended design, and there is no issue with the materials that were used. However, the design itself causes harm or injury when the consumer uses the product as it was designed to be used.
These defects fall under two different categories – conscious choice and unintended error. The designer either willfully chooses a less safe option that leads to harm or makes a design choice unknowingly that is later revealed to be unsafe after the product is manufactured.
Example: An automobile airbag that is defectively designed which fails to protect from side impact collisions. Additionally, Fen-Phen, the Ford Pinto, and Vioxx pain killers are real-life products that launched design defect product liability claims.
Failure to Warn
In failure-to-warn claims, the product was properly designed and manufactured, but contained inadequate or faulty directions or warnings that caused an injury. Some products present an inherent danger that simply cannot be completely avoided. In these situations, those responsible for designing, manufacturing, and selling the item are required to provide sufficient notice of these dangers and instructions for safe use – unless the danger is blatantly obvious.
Warnings about the potential hazards that a product presents must be written in clear language that is easy to understand. The insert or label should be highly visible with conspicuous placement. The designer or manufacturer should provide warnings about potential dangers that may result from foreseeable use. However, they cannot predict every conceivable hazard, especially when an injury is the result of irresponsible use by the consumer or use that was not predictable. Hence, the inclusion of product warnings must be reasonable.
Example: Knives and lighters present obvious hazards. If you cut yourself on a knife or burn yourself or accidently start a fire with a lighter, you likely won’t have a cause of action. But in the case of medication, if a drug has known side effects, it must come with warnings detailing these issues. Some famous real-life defective product claims that involved failure-to-warn legal theories include Bayer Yaz and Yasmin birth control litigations.
In this category of product liability claim, the design of the product may have been appropriate, but the item was defectively fabricated or manufactured. This may be due to some deviation from the originally intended design, use of substandard materials, error during manufacture or other issue during the manufacturing process that lead to an unsafe product that causes injury to the end user. Some common issues that may lead to a manufacturing defect include the following:
The use of obsolete components or materials
Substituting improper materials for various components
The use of inadequate, substandard or otherwise faulty materials or parts
The attachment of the wrong fasteners to a product
Poor or sloppy trimming on molded plastics
Manufacturing errors are categorized as minor, major, or critical. Minor defects are mostly cosmetic and don’t impact the form or function of the product. Major defects may be cosmetic or might affect the product’s function, but don’t render them unsafe, just less desirable. Critical defects are the most severe, and may case harm or injury. When Quality Assurance (QA) is properly implemented, extreme defects do not leave the manufacturing plant. When discovered after distribution, a product recall should be initiated. If a recall fails to happen in a timely manner, and an injury occurs, a product liability lawsuit may be warranted.
Examples: Auto parts are subject to these types of defects – defective tires, airbags, seatbelts, and brakes are a few well-known examples.
Product Misuse or Alteration
To escape a product liability claim, a defendant may try to raise the defense of product misuse. To succeed, the consumer’s use of the product must rise above simply using the item in a way that was different than intended. Instead, the plaintiff must have used the product in a manner that was not foreseeable, anticipated, or expected by the defendant. For example, while a lighter is not designed to be used as a bottle opener, this practice is well-recognized. Therefore, a manufacturer should be able to foresee this manner of use.
Because the actions of the end users of products is something that should be anticipated, it is the product manufacturer and designer’s responsibility to increase safety measures to better prevent injury, such as equipping a product with an automatic shutoff default when a safety guard is removed.
Common Product Liability Claims
Medical devices, industrial machinery, home repair and recreational products, and motor vehicles are just a few of the types of products that may be the subject of product liability litigation. Additionally, food products sold in restaurants and supermarkets, and drug and pharmaceutical products sold over-the-counter and by prescription may be the subject of a product liability claim. Injuries from defective products can occur anywhere, from your home or vehicle, to your gym or workplace.
The Reinartz Law Firm represents clients who have suffered personal injury or death from a variety of dangerous and defective products including, but not limited to:
Medical devices, implants, replacement joints, etc.
What Damages Can Be Recovered in Product Liability Claims?
When the negligence of others is responsible for injuries damages can be sought through a personal injury claim. These damages can be economic or non-economic in nature. Here are some of the damages that can be recovered:
Medical Expenses – You can seek compensation for all medical expenses associated with your injuries including emergency care, hospitalization costs, treatments, doctors visits and future medical expenses for ongoing care.
Past and Future Lost Wages – A significant injury can lead to loss of wages due to the inablility to work. It may also impact potential future earnings of the parties involved.
Pain and Suffering – many injuries cause undue pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, disability and impairment. These non-economic damages are compensable in a lawsuit.
How a Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
Product liability claims can be complex and time-consuming. The Reinartz Law Firm has experience investigating and litiating product liability claims. We help manage the entire process, from the initial investigation, to filing paperwork in court and litigating your case.
We work on a contingency fee basis, meaning that if your case is accepted you pay no out-of-pocket expenses and we only get paid if your claim is successful.
We invite you to a free initial consultation to learn more.
Call our office today to discuss your case. We will provide a free, no-hassle consultation and case assessment. We have offices in Hackensack, New Jersey and in downtown New York City.
The Reinartz Law Firm, LLC
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Hackensack, New Jersey 07601
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