What's the Problem?
Each year, defective products put thousands of American consumers in danger of being unreasonably injured, despite consumer protection laws and an advanced manufacturing process. Put simply, some companies are not as careful as they should be when bringing products like medical devices, home appliances, automobiles, and prescription drugs to market.
At Schmidt & Clark, LLP, our product liability attorneys are well-versed in the laws that protect consumers against the harm posed by defective products. When a consumer sustains an injury due to a defective product, a number of parties can be held liable for releasing a product that they knew or should have known posed a risk to users.
How are Product Liability Lawsuits Different From Other Types of Claims?
Unlike personal injury claims, dangerous products are considered strict liability cases. This liability can start with the product manufacturer and continue in the “chain of commerce” to the retail seller.
With strict liability, negligence on the part of the designer, manufacturer or seller does not always have to be proven at trial.
While there are exceptions to this rule, the simple fact that a party designed, made, or sold a dangerous product which caused an injury may be enough to win a settlement in a product liability lawsuit.
In some cases, responsibility or liability may be established simply by showing proof of a product defect that caused an injury to the user or a bystander.
Of course, manufacturers or others who act carelessly or fail to act with care may also be responsible for people injured by a dangerous product. If you have been injured by a defective product, it is important to contact an experienced product liability attorney immediately to discuss the facts of your case.
Types of Product Liability
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), there are 3 main types of product liability cases:
Failure to Warn - Many products must be carefully labeled with instructions for use. These instructions must provide warnings about the risks associated with improper use of the product. If the instructions fail to warn of a product’s potential risk and you are injured as a result, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.
Manufacturing Defects - Sometimes a defective product is the result of shoddy manufacturing. In this case, the problem may exist in only a handful of products or a couple of factory batches.
Manufacturers have a duty to maintain quality control of their products at all times and may be held responsible if poor factory procedures result in defective products that cause injury.
If you believe a defective product has caused your injuries, you may be entitled to compensation and should have an experienced product liability attorney review your case.
Defective Design - The problem could be that the product design is just plain bad. Companies occasionally manufacture a product that can cause injury even when used properly.
In most states, it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to justify the product’s design and prove that it is safe for its intended use. If they cannot do this, they may liable for resulting injuries.
Related post: Defective Helmet Lawsuit
What Kind of Defects Can Lead to a Products Liability Claim?
Millions of products are available to consumers in the United States. Product defects can occur during any stage of a product’s creation. Poor design, unsafe materials, inaccurate labeling, false or misleading advertising, and confusing instructions are all considered defects. Common products liability claims include the following:
- Vehicle parts - Cars, trucks and other vehicles can have numerous defective parts, such as brakes, airbags, seatbelts, tires and engines. Child car seats can also present unreasonable dangers.
- Medical devices or defective drugs - Surgical implants and devices can have flaws that cause injuries. Pharmaceutical products and medications can create severe side effects. Anything that you ingest or rub on your skin can potentially be grounds for a products liability lawsuit.
- Fires - Many residential fires are caused by heaters, including portable heaters and space heaters. Burns are also common for individuals injured at work, especially in manufacturing plants and factories.
- Lead poisoning - While most people are aware of the dangers of lead paint, lead poisoning still causes a large number of injuries in people across the U.S., especially in children.
These are just a few examples of defects that can lead to a products liability claim. A defect can be a design flaw, a manufacturing defect or a failure to adequately warn of dangers. The product liability lawyers at Schmidt & Clark, LLP, have experience handling each type of claim.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is an organization that is responsible for maintaining rules and regulations for safety symbols and product safety signs and labels.
ANSI heavily amended its warning label guidelines in 2002. The revised standards endorse signs that are easier to read, offer a more detailed explanation, and illustrate the safety risks with pictures.
According to ANSI, a warning label should:
- Inform the consumer of existing hazards
- Inform the consumer of the severity of the risk involved with the particular product
- Inform the consumer of the effects of the hazard
- Inform the consumer how to avoid the hazard
A warning should be highly visible and positioned as close to the area of hazard as possible. The label should be made with the life expectancy and the typical setting of the product in mind.
To identify the level of severity of a hazard, ANSI has assigned 3 color-coded keywords to alert the consumer:
- Danger (red) - an impending hazardous event that will end in serious injury or death.
- Warning (orange) - a potentially hazardous circumstance that may end in serious injury or death.
- Caution (yellow) - a potentially hazardous condition that could end in moderate or slight injury.
One of these keywords, along with the description of the hazard, is to be laid out on a square white background to enhance visibility.
Underneath the keyword, the section of the label dedicated to the description should be broken down into two panels, including a symbol or graphics section and a message section highlighting information pertinent to the hazard.
Questions to determine the adequacy of the warning label include:
- Was it likely the product would cause harm?
- Was the product being used in the manner for which it was intended?
- How serious was the harm?
- What knowledge level could the manufacturer presume the user had? (The level of duty to warn changes with the level of complexity of the product.)
- How much did the label rely on the experience and knowledge of the user?
- Was the warning simple and clear enough to understand?
Breach of Warranty
When a product is sold, there are 2 warranties the buyer relies on: the express warranty and the implied warranty.
- Express Warranty - Any representation about the product and its safety made by the manufacturer or retailer.
- Implied Warranty - An implied promise by the manufacturer (or other liable party) that the product, if used as intended, will not cause any harm.
The breach of warranty cause of action covers any person who would reasonably be expected to use to product.
Food Poisoning and Product Liability
The number of product liability claims based on food poisoning has been on the rise in the U.S. in recent years. Food poisoning and food-injury related claims are typically brought as product liability actions.
Claims can be filed against anyone in the chain of distribution, from the manufacturer to the retailer, as well as any party who handles the food during this transition.
One of the biggest hurdles in a food poisoning product liability case is linking the illness to the food. In most cases, the food will have been consumed or thrown away by the time the illness presents.
Evidence that can help to prove causation can include samples of food from the same batch from the manufacturer or supplier, evidence of bacteria or microorganisms in both the victim and the food supply, or, if possible, the actual product that was consumed.
A product liability attorney can help to collect the evidence necessary to substantiate your claim, as well as determine under which cause of action you should proceed.
Related: Food Poisoning Lawsuits
What Kind of Proof is Needed in Product Liability Claims?
The law recognizes different types of product defects. Liability for a defective or dangerous product generally falls into one of three categories:
- Defective design – a design flaw makes the product dangerous
- Manufacturing defect – a problem in the manufacturing process made or makes the product dangerous
- Lack of adequate warnings or instructions – The product is inherently dangerous in some way and does not come with proper warning labels or instructions to prevent injury from that danger
Most U.S. states are known as “strict liability” states. What this means is that, unlike other personal injury cases, the claimant does not need to prove negligence.
One only has to prove that a defect exists and that that defect directly caused injuries or property damage. The defect could be present in an entire line of consumer products or it could be a defect in a single item that was the result of a manufacturing mistake or malfunction.
Is There a Time Limit on a Product Liability Claim?
Yes, there is a time limit for filing a claim if you’ve been injured or had property damaged because of a defective product. Each U.S. state has a specified term called a "statute of limitations" in which plaintiffs may file a claim.
The time you have to file a claim starts when the injury or property damage is discovered. For example, if you were burned by hot coffee because of a defective travel mug, the statute of limitations would begin the moment the injury occurred. In this case, you would obviously know the injury was caused by the mug right away.
However, it would be different if you suffered organ damage that your doctor later determined was caused by prescription medication side effects. The statute of limitations would start at the time the doctor identified the link between the drug and the damage, not at the time you took the drug or when you found out that you had organ damage.
Who Can Be Held Liable for a Dangerous or Defective Product?
Anyone involved with bringing a consumer product to market can potentially be held liable if that product causes injuries or damage.
Depending on the circumstances, an injured party may be able to file a product liability lawsuit against product designers, product manufacturers or distributors, and wholesalers or retailers who actually sold the product. All have a responsibility to consumers to provide safe products.
Elements of a Successful Product Liability Claim
Plaintiffs are required to prove the following elements in a product liability claim:
The plaintiff was injured or suffered losses - The plaintiff must show actual injury or monetary loss as a result of using the defective product. Without actual injury or damage, there is no claim.
The product is defective - The plaintiff must prove that the product either had a design defect or manufacturing defect, or that the company failed to warn of the risks of the product.
The defect was the actual and proximate cause of the injury - The injury sustained must have been caused by the defect itself. The defective product must also be the proximate cause of the injury. Thus, the defendant will not be liable where an intervening act supersedes the defective product as the proximate cause of the injury.
The product was being used as intended - The product must have been used in a way the manufacturer intended to be used or in a way the manufacturer could expect a reasonable person to use it.
How Much Does it Cost to File a Claim?
Consultations are always 100% free if you’re interested in speaking with one of our experienced product liability lawyers.
You may be wondering if you have a viable case at all. If so, please reach out to us and we’ll provide a consultation at no cost. Our seasoned legal team will provide personalized information based on the details that you provide about your potential claim.
We will spend the time to understand the details of your case and provide our honest opinion and advice. There is no obligation to move forward with us after the initial consultation. If you become a client, we will work aggressively to fight for you.
What Damages Could I Be Awarded?
Damages for injuries caused by defective products are typically compensatory, special, or punitive. When a product liability lawsuit is successful, the plaintiff may be eligible for damages covering:
Compensatory Damages - These damages are intended to make the plaintiff “whole” again after the accident or injury. They can be split into 2 different categories: actual and general.
Special Damages - Reimburse the plaintiff for any calculable out-of-pocket expenses or financial losses including medical and hospital bills, lost wages, cost of substitute transportation and the cost to repair or replace damaged property.
General Damages - These damages attempt to reimburse the plaintiff for losses that cannot be easily calculated monetarily. These typically include pain and suffering, mental anguish, medical expenses, value of future lost wages, loss of consortium and loss of life’s enjoyment.
10 of the Largest Product Liability Lawsuits in the United States
- A Missouri jury in 2018 awarded $4.6 billion to 22 product liability victims in the case of Martinez v. Johnson & Johnson. The plaintiffs sued J&J over its defective talcum powder, which caused ovarian cancer in women who regularly used the product. Each of the victims was awarded $25 million.
- In Johnson v. Monsanto Co., a California jury awarded Dewayne Johnson $289 million in damages after he developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma from using Roundup weed killer. Johnson’s lawsuit was the first Roundup cancer lawsuit to make it to trial. Around $39 million of the award was to compensate Johnson for his injuries, and the remaining $250 million was punitive damages for Monsanto’s failure to warn about the cancer-causing properties of Roundup.
- In the 2018 case of Lanzo v. Imerys Talc America, a New Jersey jury awarded plaintiff Mr. Lanzo $117 million in damages. Lanzo alleged that he developed cancer from his exposure to asbestos in the defendant company’s talc products.
- In 2002, Philip Morris (now Altria Group Inc.) was sued by a woman who had developed lung cancer as the result of smoking the company’s cigarettes. The basis of her case was that Phillip Morris failed to warn her that their cigarettes could cause cancer and nicotine addiction. The jury ordered the company to pay $28 billion in punitive damages and $850,000 in compensatory damages.
- In August 1999, the families of 6 victims sued General Motors (GM) claiming that a faulty gas tank in the 1979 Chevrolet Malibu caused explosions that killed the victims. The plaintiffs were awarded $4.9 billion in damages.
- In October 2019, a Philadelphia jury determined that Johnson & Johnson was liable for deceptively marketing the antipsychotic drug Risperdal. The lawsuit was brought by male plaintiffs who had developed gynecomastia (a condition that causes breast tissue growth in young males) after taking the drug.
- In another case against J&J from 2019, an Oklahoma judge awarded the state of Oklahoma $572 million in damages (later reduced to $465 million) for the company’s role in the opioid crisis. Many states have brought lawsuits against J&J for its role in the sale and marketing of pain medications, but this was the first case where the company was deemed liable.
- In Anderson v. General Motors, a California class-action lawsuit from 1985, the jury awarded 6 burn victims $4.9 billion. The jury found that GM was liable for their injuries due to a defective fuel system in its vehicles.
- In March 2008, GM faced another class action product liability lawsuit in which 35 million consumers alleged that the company used a harmful chemical in its Dex-Coolant that caused engine leakage and damage. The consumers were collectively awarded $20 billion.
- In 1998, Dow Corning settled with consumers in a class action lawsuit for $2 billion. The consumers alleged that the company's silicone breast implants were rupturing and causing injury, bodily damage, scleroderma and even death.
Get a Free Lawsuit Evaluation With Our Product Liability Lawyers
The Product Liability Law firm at Schmidt & Clark, LLP, is an experienced team of attorneys that focus on the representation of plaintiffs in Product Liability Cases. We are handling individual litigation nationwide and currently accepting new claims in all 50 states.
If you think you may have a claim, you should contact a product liability lawyer immediately. You may be entitled to a settlement by filing a lawsuit and our law firm can help.