FREE Case Review (866) 588-0600

What is a Design Defect?
3 Main Types Explained

Awards & recognition
Collen Clark Published by Collen Clark

Schmidt & Clark, LLP is not currently accepting these types of cases and has posted this content for information purposes only. We encourage you to seek a qualified attorney, if you feel you might have a case.

Design defects in products are usually focused on the manufacturer's decisions when they were designing the product. Manufacturing defect cases focus on mistakes that the manufacturer made while making the product. 

With a decade-long experience in working with clients on their design defect claims, I will tell you all you need to know about product liability and design defects.

Summary of the Key Findings

  • Three types of product defects can lead to a product liability case: design, manufacturing, and marketing
  • Design defects can often be the cause of a product liability lawsuit, especially if someone is injured because of the defect
  • In a design defect case, the company that designed the product is normally the only one that is responsible

3 Types of Product Defects

Workers designing metal material

There are three types of product defects that can lead to a product liability case. These are design defects, manufacturing defects, and marketing defects.

1. Design defects

Design defects exist in all products of a certain line. These defects are present before the product is manufactured and might cause the product to be dangerous to use.

2. Manufacturing defects

These defects happen during the production of a product. Usually, only one or a few products have the defect, not the entire line.

Related Article: What is a Manufacturer Defect?

3. Defects in marketing 

These defects can include products with improper instructions or failures to warn consumers of potential dangers.

What is a Design Defect?

Two persons discussing between each other at a factory

A design defect is a problem with the design of a product that makes it dangerous. The danger must result from a design flaw, not something else, like how the product was manufactured or marketed [1].

In most states, plaintiffs must also demonstrate that had a reasonable alternative design been implemented, the danger would have been reduced or avoided if:

  • The manufacturer was able to produce it.
  • It was considered economically feasible, meaning that it would not cost too much to make the product with the modification.
  • The product is still serving its intended purpose.

If a company knows that a product could be dangerous when it is made and used as intended, the company can be held responsible for any injuries that occur. The company might also be liable in many states if a safer design was possible but wasn't used.

Examples of Design Defects

A person holding a power tool

The most common examples of design defects include:

  • A safety guard of a power tool that isn't effective in preventing harm
  • Products that contain poisonous chemicals that do not have a lid on 
  • An electric razor that shocks you when you turn it on

Design defects can be fixed by warning labels. But sometimes, when a design defect occurs, it can still cause injury. A defective design can also make it unreasonably dangerous for an ordinary consumer to use a product or make it difficult to use or enjoy it.

In my experience, to make a product liability claim for a design defect, you need to show that the defect caused your injury.

Liability in a Design Defect Claim

Two businessmen discussing and one of them points to a laptop

In a design defect case, the company responsible for the product is usually the only one liable. In manufacturing and marketing defect cases, anyone involved in making or selling the product can be accountable. Overall, there are three product liability claims: negligence, strict liability, and breach of warranty of fitness [2].

  1. Negligence: This means that the company did not behave so carefully that someone sensible would have behaved in the same situation. It also includes when the company did not do something they were supposed to do, such as making sure people are safe using their product.
  2. Strict liability: If a product injures someone, the manufacturer can be held liable, even if they did everything possible in the manufacturing process to make the product safe.

In this type of case, the ordinary consumer/plaintiff doesn't have to prove that the company was negligent but instead tries to show that the risks of using the product are greater than any benefits it may provide.

3. Breach of warranty of fitness: This is a claim often brought against a product's sellers. The sellers make an express or implied claim that the product can be used in a certain way.

"A defective product lawsuit may seek compensation from the product manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, and retailer that sold the item."
- Mark Joye, Head of The Litigation Department


Related Articles:

See all related product liability lawsuits we've covered.

What Must Be Proved in a Design Defect Claim?

A person looking at paperwork

The thing that must be proved in a design defect claim is that the product itself caused injuries. If someone gets hurt by your product, they might be able to sue you.

You will be liable if it can be shown that the product had a known or foreseeable risk to people who used it as it was meant to be used or if the risks of using the product are greater than any benefits.

There are two standards that a plaintiff needs to meet to prove that the product caused their injuries:

1. Consumer Expectation Test

Through the consumer expectations test, the court will decide if a reasonable person would expect the danger posed by the product.

2.  Risk-Utility Standard 

A court will examine whether using the current product is riskier than using an alternative design through an alternative design test. If it is riskier, the court might decide that it is too costly to keep using the current product.

The alternative design theory says that the plaintiff must show that the manufacturer could adopt a different design for the product that still worked well. The cost of adopting this different design must be less than the costs of the claimant's medical bills.


Is a design defect negligence?

A design defect can be negligence if it can be shown that the company did not behave carefully enough to prevent the injury or accident.

What is design defect in tort law?

A design defect in tort law is part of a product liability law that entails an inherent flaw in the product’s design. 

Filing a Design Defect Claim

If a defective product has injured you or a loved one, you may be entitled to compensation through design defect lawsuits. The first step is to find out if you have a case. You can do this by talking to a lawyer specializing in defective product cases. 

They will be able to review your case and let you know what your options are. Schmidt & Clark, LLP has a team of experienced defective product lawyers ready to help you by providing you with the formal legal advice needed. Contact us today for a free consultation.