Understanding Your Rights When Filing a Product Liability Claim

who-can-bring-a-product-liability-lawsuit-300x200The idea of responsibility for product defects is not new. As far back as 2200 BCE, the Messopotamians established the Code of Hammurabi – a system that helped people who were injured from a defective product.


Since that time, three major phases have evolved in modern product liability law. These phases involved the omission of caveat emptor, an erosion of the doctrine of privity, and the emergence of strict tort product liability claims in lawsuits.

Caveat Emptor

In Europe, the prevailing theory behind product liability in the 1600s and 1700s was caveat emptor – or “buyer beware. Under this legislation, the buyer had to examine, judge, and test their goods to protect themselves against defects. 


They did this by asking the seller to give them an express warranty. This warranty guaranteed the quality of the goods they bought. Other than this warranty, the seller was not obligated to warrant an item’s quality. The theory, which the U.S. adopted in the early 1800s, remained consistent until the early eighteenth century.

Contractual Privity

Another important concept of early product liability legislation was the doctrine of privity. Under this concept, an injured person could not sue a seller or manufacturer for injuries if they already had established a direct agreement with a seller or manufacturer, whichever applied. 


That means if someone bought a product from a retailer, they could sue the store but not the manufacturer, as they had a direct relationship with the retailer. Moreover, if a bystander was injured from the same product, they could not legally hold the retailer or manufacturer liable as they did not have a contractual relationship with either party.


The New York Court of Appeals abolished this type of defense in the case, MacPherson v. Buick Motor Company, 217 N.Y. 382 (1916). This case allowed consumers the right to sue manufacturers for product defects.


During this trial, the plaintiff bought an auto from a retailer who had purchased the car from a manufacturer. While driving the car, the plaintiff was hurled out and injured because one of the car’s wood wheels crumbled to pieces. 


Evidence showed that this event would not have taken place if the car had been inspected. No proof was shown that the defendant knew of the problem or tried to conceal it. Therefore, the claim that found in favor of the plaintiff was based on negligence and damages were paid to the plaintiff.

Strict Product Liability Law

The adoption of strict liability in tort product liability claims emerged in the California Supreme Court case, Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc., 59 Cal. 2d 57 (1963). In this case, the jury decided in favor of the retailer and held the manufacturer strictly accountable. The power tool used by the donee had not been inspected before it was shipped for sale.


Therefore, the court held that no requirement of contract was necessary between the manufacturer and the donee. Because the donee had used the product as it was intended and the defect was a design flaw, those details were sufficient enough to show fault.


As the maker of a product is put in the position of public trust, people who use products should feel confident about what they buy. So, any manufacturer who betrays this trust and makes a defective product–even though they do so unintentionally–should be held liable if its use ends in an injury.

Winning a Strict Liability Lawsuit

To win your claim in a strict liability lawsuit, you need to show the following:


  • That you were injured
  • That the defendant’s actions or product they made caused the injury
  • That the defendant’s activities were unreasonably dangerous or that they had control over the item that was sold


A manufacturer is not held accountable in a product defect claim if they’ve done everything to ensure that the product is safe but the retailer, for instance, places the product in an environment that causes it to degrade. 


In this type of case, you would have to direct your lawsuit to the retailer.


For example, let’s say a food manufacturer took all the reasonable precautions to produce and package their food so it would be safe for consumption. However, the food is placed in an area where the items were damaged or infected with a harmful substance.


In this instance, the store’s error in stocking resulted in illness. If a manufacturer exhausts all possible safety measures, including forewarning customers of possible dangers, they can limit claims for possible liability.


Product Defects

In a broad sense, defects in products are errors that cause a product to become unsafe. The defect may be directly associated with the product, or it may point to a product’s packaging, labeling, advertising, or display. 


Product defects may be described as manufacturing defects, communication defects, or design defects in product liability claims.

Manufacturing Defects

Manufacturing defects happen when a product does not match the design specifications. These errors may be produced in mass, affect one product, or cover a total production run.

Design Defects

Design defects occur when a whole class of products is not planned properly, leading to consumer hazards or issues with safety. While a product may be constructed so it conforms specifically to manufacturing specifications, that does not mean the design still may not be flawed.

Communication Defects

Communication defects may happen in products that are not otherwise defective. These defects point to the omission of the directions for safe product use or warnings about hazards. They may also include manufacturing claims that falsely depict an item in terms of performance and quality.


To show a product was defective, an injured party must prove that the item was unsafe when it left the defendant’s possession. For example, a seller is not liable if the party mishandled a product or caused the product to become harmful during its use.

Call a Product Liability Attorney to Discuss Your Product Liability Claim

If you have been unexpectedly injured while using a product, you may have a product liability claim. Discuss your case with a knowledgeable product liability attorney today. Call Slappey & Sadd at 888-474-9616 for all the details right away.


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