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Defective Products Liability

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  • 0:05 Product Liability
  • 2:04 Three Types of Defects
  • 3:32 Design Flaws
  • 4:26 Manufacturing Defects
  • 5:16 Failure to Warn
  • 6:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

Businesses are held responsible when their products are defective. There are three types of possible product liability defects. This lesson explains the three possible types of defects for which businesses can be liable.

Product Liability

Products are simply goods, or things that we buy or have bought. Product liability is the legal responsibility imposed on a business for the manufacturing or selling of defective goods. It's a form of consumer protection. In other words, it's a way that our society protects those of us who buy goods. We have an inherent right to basic health and safety, and our society imposes certain laws and regulations so that our goods don't harm us.

There are no federal product liability laws. All product liability laws are state laws, and therefore vary by state. However, there are some commonalities in all jurisdictions regarding product liability defect cases:

  • The business is assumed to have more knowledge about the product than the consumer.
  • The consumer must prove that the product is defective.
  • The business bears responsibility when things go wrong with the product, even if the consumer is somewhat at fault.

Product liability cases are popular with consumers, but unpopular with businesses. This type of civil lawsuit can often result in large monetary judgments, recalls and sometimes business bankruptcies. A product defect is considered to be a strict liability offense, and that's especially rough for businesses. This means that it doesn't matter how careful the business was; if there's a defect in the product that causes harm, the business is liable.

Note though, that these lawsuits often result in important changes. These suits spawn innovation and bring about product safeguards. This results in safer environments for the consumers.

Three Types of Defects

There are three main types of product liability based on a product defect. If a consumer has been injured or suffered other damages because of a product he or she used, that consumer may have a defective product liability claim. The business will be found liable to the consumer if the court finds a:

  • Design flaw
  • Manufacturing defect
  • Failure to warn the consumer of a possible danger

There are a few things to keep in mind about these defects. Design flaws are inherent deficiencies that exist before the product is manufactured. This means that the product is planned in a way that is already flawed. In other words, all of the items produced will have the same defect. Manufacturing defects are errors that occur during the production of the item. This means that some sort of mistake occurred and only a certain few out of the many items produced have the defect. Failure to warn is also sometimes referred to as a marketing defect. This means that the manufacturer failed to include proper instructions or to warn consumers of potential dangers related to the product. The three types of defects are best explained by looking at individual examples, so let's take a look at each one separately.

Design Flaws

Remember that design flaws cause all of the items to have the same defect. The products are inherently dangerous and defective even though the products were made according to the manufacturer's specifications. For example, let's say that I buy a new, small model car. On the first day, it flips over while I'm turning a corner. I was going a reasonable speed in my neighborhood. I was injured and so I consult an attorney.

During litigation we find out that many people have had the same problem with this small car. This particular model has a tendency to flip over. The car's center of gravity is simply too high. It's a design flaw. Since there's a defect and that defect caused an injury to me, the car manufacturer is liable.

Manufacturing Defects

Manufacturing defects and design flaws are often confused. However, manufacturing defects aren't common to an entire product model. Instead, some mistake occurred that resulted in a defect to a particular item or to a few items. For example, let's say that I buy a new car. On the first day of driving it, the entire wheel falls off. I was going a reasonable speed in my neighborhood. I was injured, and I consult an attorney.

During litigation, we find out that the manufacturer did not properly secure the lug nuts on my wheel. The machine at the factory was accidentally calibrated to a different size wheel when my car came down the line. Since there's a defect and that defect caused an injury to me, the car manufacturer is liable.

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