How to Tell When a Product Manufacturer is Liable for an Accident

By | September 19, 2011

Liability is one of the most important legal concepts in our modern justice system. Today’s courts use liability to determine who is at fault in medical cases, car accidents, and even product malfunctions.

Needless to say, any case in which serious injury has been caused is potentially a big money-winner for the plaintiff, particularly if the liability of a third party can be proved.

In the world of manufacturing, product liability is such an important concept that many major corporations will form policies simply for dealing with litigation costs. Making sure that they’re not liable for any damage that happens on your end is their top priority.

But if you think you have a real case of manufacturer liability, it’s time to read up and consult a lawyer. Let’s take a look at all of the complex issues that go into determining product liability – and find out what it might mean for your case.

Liability Hinges Upon Defects

First, it’s important to remember that common sense often applies to product liability. If you bought a perfectly-functioning product and used it in high-risk behavior, there’s no reason that the company should have to pay for your medical bills. After all, your injury was a result of your (poor) decision. Just because a company has a lot of money doesn’t mean they owe you any of it.

If, however, an injury is caused because of a defect in the product itself – well, as they say in the Wizard of Oz, that’s a horse of a different color.

Any defects that are made in the actual product can certainly mean that a product manufacturer is liable for what happened to you, especially if you were using the product for legitimate reasons. If you’re injured using a pogo-stick according to the manufacturer specifications because the pogo stick broke underneath you, then you might have a case against the manufacturer of the pogo stick.

Of course, not every case is so cut and dry, but this should give you an idea of what product liability cases are all about.

In many cases where a product manufacturer fears they are indeed liable for any injuries you sustained, there is a high likelihood of settlement. And in many cases, this is exactly what you – the plaintiff – will want because it means a quick boost of cash to help pay medical bills. But there are other times in which it might be necessary to fight a product liability case in court.

When You Are Liable

As is often the case in the justice system, there are some complications and nuances we’ll want to point out. The failing of a product might not necessarily mean that the manufacturer is at fault for whatever happens to you – in fact, you might still be the one at fault.

Why might this be the case? Here are a couple of scenarios:

  • If you are using the product in any way that violates the product instructions. For example, let’s say there is a weight limit on the product that you exceed; the manufacturer could hardly be blamed that you broke their product if they explicitly stated these limitations somewhere on the product packaging. In this case, you might be using a product for its intended purpose, but you’re still not using it correctly.
  • Using a product for something other than its intended purpose. This is a quick way to lose a case against a product manufacturer. Imagine that you sold lemonade and someone who bought lemonade from you used it to throw in someone else’s face. You wouldn’t expect to pay for that.

The best solution to prevent a legal liability case – especially one that results in injury – is simply to follow the instructions that come with the products you buy. It sounds like common sense, but it’s important to remember that those instructions are there for a reason. Oftentimes, the language used in the instructions is precisely aimed at ensuring that the manufacturer has no liability if you misuse the product.

What About Your Case?

Each case is different, so if you want a real answer as to whether or not you have a case against a product manufacturer, it’s best to consult a lawyer and give them the details of the situation. But if you’ve been paying attention to the product manufacturer liability issues presented in this article, you should have a much better idea if consulting a lawyer is warranted or not.

When is a Product’s Manufacturer Being Negligent?

Most of us have heard the legal term of “negligence,” though that doesn’t necessarily mean that we understand all of its complexities. Sure, most people know that negligence that results in someone else’s injury can imply fault according to the law. But when it comes to product manufacturers, we often forget just how relevant a term that “negligence” can be.

The truth is that negligence can still happen on a company-wide scale. There are a number of ways this can happen, and each of the ways end up with that company being ultimately responsible – or liable – for any injury that occurred because of the product’s faults.

First, there may be a design flaw with the product – something that should have been detected from an early stage in a product’s development within the manufacturer’s innovation process. These design flaws can manifest themselves in a variety of ways – and they can similarly lead to all sorts of problems, not necessarily just one problem.

Next, a manufacturing defect might be to blame for a problem with the product. Perhaps the original design of the product was absolutely fine – but the actual production process had some kind of error that wasn’t noticed during quality control inspections. Any type of manufacturing defect could potentially mean that a company is liable for injuries that occur as a result of normal use of the product.

Third, a manufacturer might make a quality product but fail to give accurate warnings that regulate the behavior of the people using the product. For example, if a product is not to be used by children under a certain age, it should be spelled out somewhere in the product packaging – and it should be spelled out clearly. If this is not the case, any injury that results from using the product in such a manner could mean that the manufacturer is being liable.

Each of these potential problems with a product essentially describes a category of potential liability on the manufacturer’s part. But as we all know, individual cases can vary. So let’s look at some variables that might result from these cases of negligence and see if they reflect a situation you find yourself in.

Unreadable warnings: In many cases, a manufacturer might actually warn about certain uses for its product – but the warning is so hard to find or unreadable that the manufacturer could potentially be liable for damages. This seems to fly in the face of the third example of negligence listed above, but if a court deems that a warning could not realistically be expected to make consumers aware of potential hazards, then the case was hardly in vain.

Inherent product flaws: When you’re not sure that a product manufacturer is liable for an injury, but you have a feeling they are – sometimes that can be a feeling worth exploring. This is especially true when you consider that design flaws can be difficult to detect. After all, a product has been sold to you with complete safety instructions – and it still didn’t work. And it failed not because a piece of the product snapped or worked incorrectly…but it still failed. In these cases, be sure to ask if a negligent design flaw might be to blame for what’s happened.

Failures despite safety warnings: When you make sure to pay attention to all of the instructions and warnings that come with a certain product and it still fails, a manufacturing flaw might to blame. If you read about similar problems with the product either in the news or on the Internet, this is certainly a strong possibility. But manufacturing flaws don’t’ necessarily mean that every product has the same problem. Your product might be unique in that it somehow sneaked past quality inspectors – and this can indeed mean the product manufacturer is liable.

In some cases, a strict liability case can mean that a product was so dangerous when it was shipped out to customers that even negligence on your part might not be enough to take liability away from the company. That’s why many companies are sticklers for quality, ensuring that nothing they do in the factory can be chalked up to negligence. It’s worth real money to companies to pay the salaries of these employees rather than paying out money in lawsuits, court awards and settlements.

Before you blame yourself for an injury or accident that happened, be sure that you check up on the product manufacturer’s possible negligence. You might be surprised what the manufacturer is liable for because of a failure at certain stages of production – even early on in a product’s development.

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