Who is Responsible for Defective Products

Last time, I explained that products liability law applies to almost every item that you use at home, at work and at play. Product liability law controls cases brought by injured people against those companies responsible for marketing defective products. Also, I noted that a product could be defective because of a manufacturing defect, an error or flaw in its design or because the product did not contain correct instructions or warnings about hidden dangers while using the product. Now, lets focus on who is responsible for defective products.

Anyone who designs, manufactures, sells or otherwise distributes a defective product can be held responsible for the injuries caused by that defective product. Suppose your child gets injured by a defective toy that was designed and manufactured overseas, brought to the United States by a California importer, sold wholesale by a national distributor to a national toy store chain and sold by that toy store to you. Each one of those companies, the foreign designer and manufacturer, the importer, the distributor and finally, the retail toy store may be held responsible for your child’s injuries from a defective product. Although some states have different laws in this regard, an experienced attorney will track down all the parties who may be responsible even though this can be a difficult process. In our Toyota example, the car dealer and Toyota may be held responsible for injuries caused by a sticking gas pedal. In fact, if Toyota had a separate engineering firm design that pedal, that firm may be held responsible for any injuries. Also, although the dealer may be held responsible under products liability laws, most dealers have agreements that will eventually place full responsibility upon Toyota.

There are cases in which the injured party is also responsible. However, companies that manufacture and market products are obligated to consider how their products will likely be used by reasonable, average consumers. These companies must anticipate that consumers will not always use a particular product in the exactly correct fashion. In a recent case, the manufacturer of a large paper cutting machine failed to place a guard over the rotating cutter. The worker who got injured there because he tried quickly to reach into that area of the machine to clear a jam, or even if he had accidentally slipped on the factory floor and got his hand injured there could bring a product liability claim against the manufacturer. Although the manufacturer will argue that it did not intend workers to place their hands there, the law requires the manufacturer to anticipate these kinds of injuries. It is certainly reasonable to expect that workers might be injured by these occurrences. Thus, although the manufacturer will argue that the injury was the worker’s own fault, the worker may indeed have a product liability claim against the manufacturer. In many states, the jury deciding the case will only be allowed to consider whether the machine was defective, the jury will be instructed not to reduce any damage award even if the worker could have been a little more careful. In many states, these types of issues, known as comparative fault or comparative negligence, are not relevant in product liability cases.

In our Toyota example, Toyota will not argue that an accident caused by a sticking gas pedal was the fault of the driver. However, the driver will have to show that the accident was indeed caused by a sticking gas pedal will and was not caused by driver error or careless driving.

Next time, I will write about some things that you might want to do if you or a family member are injured by a defective product. Until then, please be careful out there. Thanks for reading.

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