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Types of Products Liability Cases

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Victims harmed by defective products can seek compensation for their damages under an area of law known as products liability. In California, there are generally three types of products liability claims:

  1. Strict Liability cases
  2. Product Negligence
  3. Breach of Warranty

Determining whether a products liability claim should be based on the theory of strict liability, negligence, or breach of warranty is a fact-specific matter, as each type of claim requires Plaintiffs to prove different essential elements. With any type of claim, victims and counsel will need to be meticulous in their products liability investigations.

At Biren Law Group, our father-son legal team can personally review your potential case to determine the most appropriate avenue for recovering the compensation you deserve.

Strict Liability

In most personal injury cases, victims must prove they were injured as a result of a Defendant’s negligent or wrongful acts. In cases involving defective products, however, victims may pursue claims under the theory of strict liability, which holds Defendants liable regardless of whether they were negligent.

While strict liability alleviates a Plaintiff’s burden to prove the classic elements of negligence (i.e. duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages), it does not mean manufacturers are the insurer of a product user’s safety. Instead, strict liability claims are hinged on the extent to which a party was “responsible for placing products in the stream of commerce” (Hernandezcueva v. E.F. Brady Co., Inc.).

To prevail in a strict liability claim, Plaintiffs must generally establish:

  • The Defendant designed, manufactured, distributed, or sold the product;
  • The product was used as intended or in a reasonably foreseeable manner;
  • The product was defective (due to a design, manufacturing, or marketing defect) when in the Defendant’s possession; and
  • The Plaintiff suffered injuries as a result of the defect.

Per California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI No. 1200), strict liability can be imposed for three types of defects: manufacturing defects, design defects, and warning defects which cause injury when products are used in a “reasonably foreseeable way” (Soule v. GM Corp.).

For products case, a “reasonably foreseeable way” is defined as the manner in which an ordinary consumer is likely to use or even misuse a product.

1. Manufacturing Defects

Manufacturing defects occur during the manufacturing, construction, or production of a product, and cause the product to differ from:

  1. Its intended design or specifications; or
  2. Other products within the same product line (CACI No 1201).

Examples of manufacturing defects may include using the wrong materials (i.e. using 22-gauge steel rather than 18-gauge steel as designed, which can lead to failure and accidents), using poor quality materials, broken machinery or processing lines, and inferior workmanship.

Plaintiffs must prove the following elements in a manufacturing defect case:

  • The Defendant designed, manufactured, or sold a defective product;
  • The product contained a manufacturing defect when it left the Defendant’s possession;
  • The Plaintiff was injured; and
  • The product’s defect was a substantial factor in causing injury.

2. Design Defects

Under California law, a design defect exists when either the Consumer Expectations Test, or the Risk / Benefit Test applies (Barker v. Lull Engineering Co.).

  1. The Consumer Expectation Test involves products that do not perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect when used in an intended or reasonably foreseeable way (CACI No. 1203). For example, the Consumer Expectation Test could apply to a woman’s curling iron that becomes so hot it burns the user’s hair and scalp, as an ordinary consumer would expect a curling iron to be safe for use on their hair / head.
  2. The Risk-Benefit Test involves claims that a product’s design was a substantial factor in causing harm to the victim. However, even if Plaintiffs can prove design defects were a substantial factor in causing their injury, defendants may mitigate or escape liability by proving the benefits of the design outweigh the risks of the design (CACI No. 1204). Juries overseeing a risk-benefit test are instructed to consider, among other relevant factors:
    1. The nature / severity of potential harm resulting from use of the product;
    2. The likelihood of harm;
    3. Whether an alternative, safer design was available at the time of production;
    4. The cost of an alternative design;
    5. The disadvantages of an alternative design; and

3. Failure to Warn / Inadequate Instructions

Products liability lawsuits may also claim “marketing defects” – namely, failures to warn or inadequate instructions – caused a Plaintiffs’ injury (CACI 1205).

Claims that products caused harm because they lacked sufficient instructions or warnings must prove:

  1. The Defendant manufactured or sold the product;
  2. The product had potential risks / side effects that were known, or should have been known, at the time of production / sale;
  3. Potential risks associated with the product, when used in an intended or reasonably foreseeable way, posed a substantial danger;
  4. Potential risks posed by the product would not have been recognized by an ordinary consumer;
  5. The Defendant failed to adequately warn (or instruct) about potential risks.
  6. The Plaintiff suffered harm;
  7. The lack of sufficient warning or instruction was a substantial factor in causing injury.

Under California law, even products that are flawlessly designed and produced may become “defective” simply because they lack adequate warnings or instructions regarding risks – particularly when such risks are not likely to be known by consumers (i.e. they require medical or scientific knowledge).

Product Negligence

While defective products are subject to strict liability, victims may allege they are entitled to compensation for their injuries due to the negligence of a person / company responsible for placing a product on the market.

Types of product negligence include:

  • Negligent manufacture
  • Negligent design
  • Negligent supply
  • Negligent installation
  • Negligent inspection
  • Negligent repair
  • Negligent rental

To win a product liability case under the theory of negligence, Plaintiffs must prove a Defendant involved in the design, manufacturing, or distribution or a product failed to act in a reasonable manner to avoid product users from foreseeable risks of harm.

In other words, victims must show a Defendant knew or should have known about the products potential risks, but failed to take reasonable steps to address, reduce, or eliminate them.

Breach of Warranty

Victims harmed by products may pursue legal action on grounds that the product maker / supplier breached its warranty. This includes both express warranties (those expressly stated to a consumer verbally or in writing) and implied warranties (those that are unwritten).

  • Breach of express warranty applies when a product does not live up to express representations (i.e. written guarantees that a product is suitable for a specific purpose), and that failure is a substantial factor in causing injury to the Plaintiff, who used the product within the parameters of the express warranties (CACI 1230).
  • Breach of implied warranty relates to guarantees that, though not expressly stated, are implied as part of the “deal” made when consumers purchase a product. Implied warranties can include an implied warranty of merchantability (the warranty that goods are of acceptable quality and generally fit for the purpose for which they’re used, CACI 1207), or implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose (meaning the consumer relies on the seller to furnish a product suitable for a particular purpose CACI 1208).

Determining which theory of liability to use as the basis of your products claim is a task that should be handled by experienced attorneys. At Biren Law Group, our award-winning lawyers are available to personally discuss your case, potential options, and what we can do to help during a FREE consultation. Contact us to speak with a lawyer.