Product liability refers to the legal liability manufacturers and commercial traders incur for producing and/or selling dangerously faulty consumer goods, and it is one of the most legally and technically complicated sectors of personal injury law. If you have been injured by a faulty product, understanding the scope of your rights is critical, and the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions can help.
What is a product liability claim?
Product liability claims are the legal claims that people bring against negligent manufacturers and/or distributors of faulty consumer goods that leave them injured after the products fail to function in the reasonably safe manner that they should. Some of the most common product liability claims involve the following:
vehicles and vehicle parts
Children’s toys and clothing
This list can extend to virtually any products that are sold for public consumption.
What are the three types of Product Defects?
In the State of Texas, products may be deemed defective if any of the following apply:
The product is based on an unsafe design, to begin with.
The product was rendered faulty during the manufacturing process.
The product lacks the necessary instructions and warnings.
As consumers, we assume that the products we use on a regular basis have been thoughtfully designed, carefully tested, and adequately labeled to help ensure we can use them safely. All too often, however, this is not the case, but to bring a successful product liability case, you must be able to demonstrate that one of these three categories of defect applies.
When a product’s very design exposes consumers to the unnecessary risk of injury or death, it is considered to be defective by design. While some products are dangerous to begin with, such as power tools, design defects refer to when manufacturers implement designs – for any kind of product – that are less safe, to begin with.
When errors or problems arise in the manufacturing process, it can render a product that is based on a safe design dangerous. Further, when products are modified somewhere along the supply chain, it can prove exceptionally risky. Manufacturing defects can be some of the most difficult to prove because they can be random, and they may not affect every item in the product line.
When a product lacks the necessary warnings and/or instructions for its safe use, it can put users at considerable risk. Examples include:
When the consumer is not advised of product risks that are neither predictable nor obvious to reasonable people
When the consumer is not supplied with the instructions necessary for using the product in a safe manner.
When the instructions or labeling included factually misrepresent the product in a manner that leads to the user being injured
When the labeling and/or design of a product comport with federal regulations, there is a presumption that the manufacturer lacks liability in the matter, but this presumption can be challenged if the regulations themselves are identified as inadequate or if the manufacturer withheld critical information it had about the product’s safety that affected its approval under federal guidelines or its ability to remain within all necessary regulations.
How long do I have to file a lawsuit?
If someone else’s negligence leaves you injured by a consumer good, there is a time limitation regarding how long you have to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party, and this is known as the statute of limitations. In Texas, consumers have two years from the date of their injuries to file suit. There is also, however, a statute of repose related to the window of time that is based on the product’s original sale date, and in Texas, this is 15 years. If the product in question, however, was guaranteed by either the manufacturer or the seller for a period longer than this, that extended period applies. There are also exceptions for those cases in which the injured party did not encounter the product within the statute of repose or those cases in which the product caused the consumer to develop an illness that did not present with symptoms until long after the fact. The difference between the statute of limitations and the statute of repose is that the statute of limitations applies to your unique case specifically, and the statute of repose generally applies to all product liability claims related to a specific product. The most important point to take away from these time limitations is that, if you have been injured by a faulty consumer good, acting quickly is imperative.
What are common examples of design defects?
Design defects refer to those products that unreasonably endanger the user even when they are manufactured without flaw and include the necessary instructions and warnings. Just because a product is dangerous, such as a power saw, however, does not mean that it is defective by design. For example, power tools serve an important role, and reasonable consumers recognize their inherent danger and take the necessary precautions. This means that, in order to bring a successful product liability claim in relation to a design defect, you must be able to show not only that the product was unsafe by design but also that all the following apply:
A design that was less dangerous could have been employed.
The less dangerous design option could have reasonably been implemented from both a technological and financial standpoint.
Using the less dangerous design options would have preserved the majority of the product’s usefulness – while reducing the risk of serious injuries.
Additionally, you must prove that the injuries you sustained were the direct result of the design defect (and were not the result of something else).
Common dangerous examples include:
A toy designed for young children incorporating small removable parts that can serve as choking hazards
A gun safety mechanism that allows it to be fired even when the safety is employed
A car feature that allows it to accelerate suddenly and of its own accord
What are common examples of manufacturing defects?
Manufacturing defects are generally random – or chance – events, and the same defect is not necessarily present in other products of the same kind (even those made in the same run). This category of defect is generally the result of issues with quality control or production. You must be able to provide clear evidence of the product’s defect, which can be especially difficult to accomplish if it is ultimately damaged or destroyed as a result of the manufacturing defect. Some of the most common manufacturing defects include:
When the tread separates from a tire
When a handle rendered faulty in the manufacturing process breaks off a child’s car seat/carrier
When a car’s safety mechanism fails to engage
What are common examples of failure to warn?
If a product does not come with adequate instructions or warnings, it can put the user at undue risk of being injured. This is especially true of those products that are dangerous in an unexpected and/or unforeseeable way. Without appropriate warning labels and instructions for safe use, the consumer can be blindsided. Potential examples that involve the manufacturer’s failure to warn include:
A child’s high chair that is complicated to lock safely into place
A tool that is exceptionally dangerous when the user’s hand is in the wrong place
A drug that is exceptionally dangerous when used in combination with other common drugs
What are some of the most common defective vehicle claims?
Defective vehicle claims make up a good portion of the total product liability claims in Texas, and they come in a wide range of forms, including:
Claims involving seatbelts that fail to operate correctly
Claims involving defective airbags
Claims involving defective tires
Claims involving SUVs that rollover
Claims involving roof failures
Claims involving child car seats that are defective
Claims involving seatback failures
Claims involving defective door latches
Claims involving gas tank ruptures and explosions
Cars are complicated machines, and each part can involve a number of manufacturers and designers. As such, if you or your loved one are left injured by a vehicle’s defective part, more than one party can potentially be held legally accountable, including the following:
The car manufacturer
The manufacturer of the car part in question
The company that assembles or installs the part in question
The wholesale company that sold the part or vehicle in question
The retail store that sold the vehicle or part in question
What damages can I seek?
If you have been left harmed by a faulty consumer good, obtaining the compensation to which you are entitled is likely critical to your ability to fully recover, and the legal damages (or losses) you can seek in your product liability claim are divided into both economic losses and non-economic losses.
Your medical bills fall squarely in the camp of economic damages. These represent a loss you can put a value on, and if your injuries are serious, this category of expense can be ongoing. Such injuries can lead to secondary health concerns that require medical care and treatment into the future. Common examples of medical costs include:
Emergency treatment at the scene of the accident and emergency transportation from the scene of the accident to the medical facility
Surgical care and medical follow-up
Treatment, care, and medical guidance from doctors, specialists, and other medical professionals
Medical procedures and tests
Pain management techniques
Physical and/or occupational therapy
Adaptive physical devices and adaptations to home and vehicle
Home health care
Lost Earnings on the Job
While you recover from your physical injuries, you’ll very likely be off the job, which typically means a decrease in take-home pay (or a loss of income altogether). If you are unable to return to work for a considerable amount of time or your ability to do your job is affected, the associated loss can be even more substantial. While this is clearly an economic loss, the meaning we derive from our careers can also lead to emotional setbacks.
Pain and Suffering
The pain and suffering associated with being injured by a consumer product that you plunked down your hard-earned money to purchase can be overwhelming. In addition to the physical pain caused by your injuries, there is emotional scarring to consider. Pain and suffering comes under the classification of non-economic damages, and while these are more challenging to assign a value to, they can be debilitating and should not be overlooked in your product liability claim.
Do I need a Lawyer?
The short answer to do you need a lawyer is that yes, it is in your best interest to work with an experienced Texas product liability lawyer. All personal injury claims are complicated, but those involving faulty consumer goods are more so – in terms of both the legalities (including identifying the party or parties that are liable) and the technology involved. Your best chance of reaching your fullest recovery very likely hinges on your ability to obtain the compensation that covers your complete damages, which makes working closely with a skilled product liability lawyer paramount.
What if the insurance company offers to settle?
Beware of the insurance company that gets back to you with an early settlement offer. Often, such offerings are motivated by an attempt to finalize claims before claimants even recognize the full extent of their physical, financial, and emotional damages. Before you accept a settlement offer from the insurance company, it is always in your best interest to consult with an experienced product liability lawyer who is up to speed with the details of your claim.
Do Not Delay Consulting with an Experienced Killeen Product Liability Lawyer
Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is a seasoned product liability lawyer who takes great pride in helping clients like you negotiate fair settlements that accurately reflect the full scope of their complete damages. We are on your side and here to help, so please do not hesitate to contact us online or call us at 254-501-4040 for more information today.