Product liability is the area of law in which manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, retailers, and others who make products available to the public are held responsible for the injuries those products cause. Although the word "product" has broad connotations, product liability as an area of law is traditionally limited to products in the form of tangible personal property.
Product liability in the United States
Theories of liability
In the United States, the claims most commonly associated with product liability are negligence, strict liability, breach of warranty, and various consumer protection claims. The majority of product liability laws are determined at the state level and vary widely from state to state. Each type of product liability claim requires different elements to be proven to present a successful claim.
Types of liability
Section 2 of the Restatement (Third) of Torts: Products Liability distinguishes between three major types of product liability claims:
- manufacturing defect,
- design defect,
- a failure to warn (also known as marketing defects).
However, in most states, these are not legal claims in and of themselves, but are pleaded in terms of the theories mentioned above. For example, a plaintiff might plead negligent failure to warn or strict liability for defective design.
- Manufacturing defects are those that occur in the manufacturing process and usually involve poor-quality materials or shoddy workmanship.
- Design defects occur where the product design is inherently dangerous or useless (and hence defective) no matter how carefully manufactured; this may be demonstrated either by showing that the product fails to satisfy ordinary consumer expectations as to what constitutes a safe product, or that the risks of the product outweigh its benefits.
- Failure-to-warn defects arise in products that carry inherent nonobvious dangers which could be mitigated through adequate warnings to the user, and these dangers are present regardless of how well the product is manufactured and designed for its intended purpose.
Breach of warranty
Warranties are statements by a manufacturer or seller concerning a product during a commercial transaction. Warranty claims commonly require privity between the injured party and the manufacturer or seller; in plain English, this means they must be dealing with each other directly. Breach of warranty-based product liability claims usually focus on one of three types: (1) breach of an express warranty, (2) breach of an implied warranty of merchantability, and (3) breach of an implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. Additionally, claims involving real estate may also take the form of an implied warranty of habitability. Express warranty claims focus on express statements by the manufacturer or the seller concerning the product (e.g., "This chainsaw is useful to cut turkeys"). The various implied warranties cover those expectations common to all products (e.g., that a tool is not unreasonably dangerous when used for its proper purpose), unless specifically disclaimed by the manufacturer or the seller.
A basic negligence claim consists of proof of
- a duty owed,
- a breach of that duty,
- the breach was the cause in fact of the plaintiff's injury (actual cause)
- the breach proximately caused the plaintiff's injury.
- and the plaintiff suffered actual quantifiable injury (damages).
As demonstrated in cases such as Winterbottom v. Wright, the scope of the duty of care was limited to those with whom one was in privity. Later cases like MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co. broadened the duty of care to all who could be foreseeably injured by one's conduct.
Over time, negligence concepts have arisen to deal with certain specific situations, including negligence per se (using a manufacturer's violation of a law or regulation, in place of proof of a duty and a breach) and res ipsa loquitur (an inference of negligence under certain conditions).
(source = wikipedia.org/wiki/Product_liability)