Law of Products Liability

We have all heard about the sticky gas pedal problem in 8 different models of Toyotas. I am not picking on Toyota but this situation provides an opportunity to review the law of products liability.

Generally, product liability controls cases brought by injured people against those companies responsible for marketing defective products. Product liability law applies to almost every item that you use at home, at work and at play. All of these things, your child’s toy, your recreational and sporting goods, the tools and utensils you use around your home and garden, the equipment you use at the office or in the factory and yes, the car you drive, all of these things are products controlled by product liability law. Even component parts of the products that you use on a day to day basis are covered by the product liability laws. Thus, the car can be defective even though only one of its parts gets stuck. The toy can be defective even though only one of its pieces contained lead paint.

So the law applies to almost every defective product but what makes a product defective?  A product can be defective if it contains some flaw from the manufacturing process. This is called a manufacturing defect. The product itself may be well designed but the way it was manufactured makes it unsafe. An example from a recent case: a child’s toy was manufactured in a plant overseas consisting of three production lines. Toys produced along two of those lines contained a rounded edge but toys that came from the third line contained a very sharp edge, the machines and tooling used on the third line were incomplete and flawed. Therefore, one-third of all of the toys produced in that plant contained a sharp edge along the bottom. Those toys were sold because the importer only checked one toy from each shipment before distributing all of the toys. Although the toy was designed properly, the toys with the sharp edge contained a
manufacturing defect.

A product can also be defective if it contains some error in its design. That is, although the product is made according to plans, the plans themselves are defective. The sticking gas pedals in those Toyotas were made exactly according to plans. Unfortunately, it looks like the original plan did not consider normal wear and other conditions that might later cause a gas pedal made according to these plans to stick. To cure this problem, Toyota is adding a reinforcement bar behind the gas pedal. Those who have been injured will argue that the original design was defective because it did not include this bar.

Product liability laws do vary from state to state. In Pennsylvania, for example, there is a  specific definition for a defective product given to the folks who serve on juries for product liability cases. Briefly, a product is considered defective if it lacks any element necessary to make it safe for its intended use or if it contains any condition that makes it unsafe for its intended use.

Next time, I will write some more about the law of products liability. In the meantime . . . drive carefully. Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or would like to read about a specific topic, let me know.

John A. Orlando, Esquire can be reached in his office at 115 Fayette Street, by phone at (610) 897-2576 or by email at