What is Product Liability?

rod-long-1052613-unsplash-copy-300x200We are all familiar with product liability even if we do not necessarily recognize it by that name. In short, product liability means the idea that when we, as consumers, purchase a product and use it for its intended purpose, it is supposed to be safe and not cause us harm. While the idea itself seems simple, in reality it is not so straight-forward.

Product Liability in Law

At one point, consumers were not protected when they purchased a product.  Most everyone has heard of the idea of caveat emptor, or “buyer beware.” This is the idea that if you bought a product and it malfunctioned or caused harm, you were stuck with the results. Law constantly evolves and as time has passed, the idea that manufacturers and those who sell the goods should be held liable when consumers are hurt by the products they have purchased has come into being.

Federal Consumer Product Law

While most product liability lawsuits are based on state law, there are several federal laws that have been established so that the federal government can set standards for product safety. In 1972, Congress enacted the Consumer Product Safety Act to establish the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in order to regulate the manufacturing of products to ensure consumer safety. The regulations that have been promulgated under the authority of the law cover a diversity of products including:

  • Children’s clothing
  • Lead paint
  • Toys
  • Books
  • Cigarette lighters
  • Furniture

A wide array of products are regulated by the CPSC on a broad scale. There are also federal laws concerning the development and sale of pharmaceuticals, food, and more.

California Law

California has a number of consumer protections laws that have been passed to bolster federal laws and regulations. One that many people are familiar across the country is Proposition 65 (also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act) that requires labeling of products that contain ingredients that may cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm. The laws and regulations referenced above all seek to protect consumers by setting standards for manufacturing. The question, then, is what happens if a manufacturer purports to follow the applicable standards and an injury still results.

Product Liability Lawsuits in California

If you are injured by a product in California, manufacturers or sellers can be held liable in three different categories, depending on the facts in the case. The three different types of case are:

  • Defective design: Wherein a product is designed in such a way that it is designed to perform in a way that is unsafe
  • Manufacturing defect: Wherein a product is designed safely but because of an error in the manufacturing process, it is rendered unsafe
  • Lack of warning or instructions: Wherein a product fails to warn a consumer of risks inherent with the use of the product or fails to provide appropriate instructions for safe use

Each of these types of case has specific requirements and there may be overlap between them.  For example, if a manufacturer makes a toy that contains lead paint, there may be liability not only for a manufacturing defect (if lead was included in the paint accidentally) but also as a lack of adequate warning if the label or instructions failed to note that the toy might contain lead.

The manufacturing process is often complicated and products must not only be designed to operate safely but must actually be safe and, if not, the consumer must be warned of the danger. Not all manufacturers do this and consumers are put in harm’s way.  If you live in the Oakland, San Francisco, or Santa Rosa area and you have been injured by a product that you have used, a product liability lawyer may be able to help. The legal professionals at Willoughby Brod LLP can assist you with navigating the complexities that product injuries can create. Give them a call at 800-427-7020 or click here to set up your initial consultation to see how they can assist you in protecting your rights.

(image courtesy of Rod Long)