Buyability v. Liability
With the holidays here, everyone in the world is purchasing something to gift or simply to take advantage of the amazing sales and to eat out with friends and family along the way. With all these purchases, both of food and merchandise, we all hope that we get the product we think we are buying. It’s not unreasonable to count on the TV having the picture you expect or for the computer to be as fast as advertised, right? These are issues that, while frustrating, can be easily addressed by simply returning and getting a different model or maybe just a replacement product. But what happens when something goes terribly wrong and someone gets hurt?
Product liability law focuses on a product with dangers and defects that cause injury. These laws are meant to protect consumers and to make sure that the sellers/manufacturers of a product bear the costs of those injuries and damages that are caused by their mistakes and/or by a flaw in their products. There are a wide variety of “products” that could fall under these laws, depending on the transaction that occurs and the injury that results. Even chicken nuggets from fast food restaurants are considered a product and we successfully settled a case when a bone was found in a nugget which injured our client.
When an injury occurs based on a product, there are a few different theories that a lawyer files suit claiming: Negligence, Breach of Warranty, and Strict Liability. When dealing with a negligence claim, the argument revolves around what responsibilities and actions can reasonably be expected of the different people that handle the product before it reaches the consumer. For a manufacturer, under this theory there is an assumption that a manufacturer owes a duty of care to those expected to use or be exposed to the product. Yes, that’s right. They have to be mindful of anyone that could come in harm’s way, including the person who bought the product. The negligence can come at a few different times in the process:
- The design could be faulty
- The pieces used to build the product could be sub-par
- Lack of sufficient research and testing
- Failure to warn of the dangers; and
- Failure to act when a problem is discovered.
Basically, the manufacture is expected to act reasonably throughout the process, from designing to manufacturing to inspecting, to make sure it is safe before it reaches the consumer. If they discover dangers of using incorrectly or placing in specific conditions, whether discovered before or after distribution, they have a duty to make necessary efforts to warn and inform the consumers.
Other parties that handle the product may be held responsible as well for negligence. As we know, most of the time the consumer is not buying directly from the person/company that made it. The products are shipped and handled by a few companies before being bought, and all of those companies can be held responsible if their negligence in handling the products ultimately cause injury. Proving negligence can often be difficult, but one of the best approaches is using the 'res ipsa loquitur’ approach. When something goes wrong, often the only explanation would be negligence. Showing this can result in a successful case and will leave the manufacturer fumbling to chase down the other handlers to recover. In our chicken nugget case, this was a great argument as the only way a bone could find its way to the nugget was through negligence by the manufacturer in producing it.
With that being said, we hope that no one has to deal with an injury caused by the products they buy or receive this holiday season. But if you do suffer a personal injury due to a purchase or gift, product liability law may be one approach that you can use to recover damages for your injury.
Fred Antenberg is an attorney in Maryland who may be able to help you if you or someone you know has been injured by something you bought or received, a product liability theory may be the approach he takes. CONTACT US for a free consultation at 410-730-4404.