If you have questions about a product defect or product liability in general, below are seven things to know about defective products and product liability law.
- What is Product Liability Law?
Product liability law addresses how injured parties may recover for damages they sustained from a defective product. Typically, the responsible party in a product liability case is anyone in the product’s chain of distribution, including but not limited to:
- The product manufacturer
- The manufacturer of parts of the product
- The party that assembles the product or installs it
- The distributor of the product
- The retail store selling the product directly to the consumer
Product liability law is based on state law and is often brought under the following causes of action:
2. How Can a Product Be Defective?
There are various ways a product can be defective, including:
- Manufacturing Defects: These types of defects typically occur while the product is in the manufacturer’s care.
- Marketing Defects: These types of defects involve problems with how a product is marketed, which may include issues with the labeling of the product, a lack of warnings or instructions, etc.
- Design Defects: These defects are caused by a flaw in the design of the product itself, such that the product is defective from the start.
3. What Are Examples of Defective Products?
There are thousands of different products that are defective, causing millions of injuries each year. That said, it would be impossible to name every type of defective product. However, below are some examples of products that have had serious defects that may be surprising:
- Essential oils. This is a product commonly used by consumers that you would not expect to be harmful. However, in recent news, this product has been recalled in some instances after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that certain bottles of room spray contained rare and dangerous bacteria that causes melioidosis – a potentially fatal condition.
- Off-road motorcycles. Off-road motorcycles are supposed to be fun for riders to use during their outdoor adventures. However, if the bike is defective, this activity could be dangerous. Recently, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recalled some of these motorcycles because the retaining clips on the front brake caliper pin were falling out. This could cause the front brakes to fail, posing a crash hazard to the bike’s rider.
- Defective battery. Sometimes the lithium battery inside many commonly-used products such as phones, video cameras, or even remote-controlled cars can be faulty, causing severe injuries.
- LED Projectors. When you think of a defective product, rarely would an LED projector come to mind. However, the CPSC has recently recalled some LED projectors because they can malfunction and overheat, posing a fire hazard.
- Jogging Strollers. Your baby’s safety is a top priority. Most parents would not expect their child’s life to be in danger when taking their baby for a stroll. However, on October 7, 2021, the CPSC recalled some jogging strollers due to a product defect. The stroller’s front wheel bearing could fail or detach in some situations, posing a fall and injury hazard.
- Wood Stools. When sitting on a stool in your kitchen, you typically would not expect to be in danger. However, some wood stools have been recalled recently due to the stool breaking during use, posing fall and injury hazards. The CPSC recalled some stools in October 2021, recommending that consumers immediately stop using the recalled items and return them to the store where they were purchased for a full refund.
- Youth ATVs. Recently, the CPSC recalled some youth ATVs because the vehicles failed to comply with federal mandatory ATV safety standards, posing a risk of severe injury or death to children.
- Oversized Outdoor Reclining Chairs. When you are relaxing outside in your reclining chair on a warm summer day, the last thing you expect is the chair to suddenly collapse, causing you injuries. However, the CPSC has recently recalled several reclining outdoor chairs because they could break or collapse when weight is applied, posing a fall hazard. Reports of injured parties were sent to the retailer of the chair. The CPSC recommended that consumers immediately stop using the recalled chairs and return them to the nearest retail store for a full refund.
- Oil and Vinegar Cruets. When you are sitting down with your family enjoying a nice Italian dinner, and you go to grab the oil and vinegar cruet to add a nice flavor to your salad, you typically would not expect to be lacerated by the cruet (which is a small container). However, in September 2021, the CPSC recalled about 26,150 cruets because the glass portion can break during use, posing laceration hazards.
- Defective power or chain saw. Be careful to inspect your power or chainsaw before use, and do your research. In December 2020, the CPSC recalled 10-inch corded chain saws with extension poles because the chainsaw can start unexpectedly without the operation of the switch when the extension cord adapter is connected upside down. This could pose serious laceration hazards. The CPSC recommended that consumers stop using the recalled chainsaw immediately and contact the manufacturer for a free repair kit.
4. How to Conduct a Product Recall
When a product is defective, and a party in the product’s distribution chain, such as the manufacturer, distributor, or retailer, among other responsible parties, learns that the product is faulty, the responsible party may need to conduct a product recall. The CPSC provides guidelines on how to conduct a recall.
The CPSC recommends that one of the best ways to ensure that a product recall effectively reduces the amount of injuries or damages sustained to consumers is for a company to have a product recall plan already in place prior to an issue arising and execute it as quickly as possible.
Generally, a recall plan should begin with a company following the applicable laws and reporting the product to the CPSC. Responsible parties have a legal obligation to immediately report the following information about their products to the CPSC:
- A defective product that could cause an unreasonable risk, injuries, or death to consumers
- A product that fails to comply with applicable consumer product safety rules or any other rule, regulation, standard, or ban under the Consumer Product Safety Act, or any other statute enforced by the CPSC
- An incident in which a child (regardless of age) chokes on a marble, small ball, latex balloon, or other small part contained in a toy or game and that, as a result of the incident, the child dies, suffers a severe injury, ceases breathing for any length of time, or is treated by a medical professional
- Certain types of lawsuits applicable to manufacturers and importers and subject to the time periods detailed in Sec. 37 of the CPSA
Failure of a responsible party to properly report this information to the CPSC may lead to civil and/or criminal penalties. According to the CPSC, a responsible party should follow the following advice: “When in doubt, report.”
Sometimes defective products are reported by the consumers themselves or other sources. Once the CPSC decides that a recall may be necessary, it will expect a responsible party to respond quickly to its request for information and work closely with the CPSC’s Office of Compliance to ensure a proper recall.
5. How Do I Report an Unsafe Product or Search for Them?
If you are a consumer and would like to report an unsafe product to the CPSC, or you would like to protect your family and search the CPSC’s product recall database to see if a product you are considering is unsafe, consult the CPSC’s web page located at saferproducts.gov.
6. What Should You Do After Being Injured by a Defective Product?
If a defective product injures you, first, you should take care of your injury and seek medical attention. Your health and safety are most important. After you have addressed your medical needs, you should consider the following to help prepare your product liability case:
- Be sure to keep the product that causes your injuries. Keep the product as-is without attempting to fix or modify it. Do not throw it away.
- Be sure to collect your medical records documenting your injuries and take photos of the injuries caused by the defective product.
- Be sure to follow your doctor’s advice and follow the prescribed treatment plan to ensure your injuries are treated properly.
- Do not talk about your situation on social media. This could harm your case.
- Seek guidance or advice on your legal rights as soon as possible after sustaining your injuries.
7. How Do I Know If I Have a Viable Product Liability Case?
If you or a loved one were injured or died because of a defective product, you may have a product liability claim. The key to winning your case is to prove that the product’s defect was the manufacturer’s fault (or another responsible party such as the seller or distributor of the product). Consumers expect, and the law requires, products to be safe and not dangerous to those using them.
Even if a product was safe when it left the manufacturer, you might still have a claim against another party if its packaging hurt you, the product was damaged at some point after leaving the manufacturer and being purchased by you, or the product did not have sufficient warnings or instructions.